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At its annual shindig in Chicago, physicians in the American Osteopathic Association over the weekend agreed to warn patients that health apps and websites are no substitute for a visit to the doctor.

The AOA adopted a resolution that the osteopaths will “actively educate patients on the importance of seeing a physician when ill or injured and in need of a medical diagnosis, and that patients not allow recommendations from these medical websites or applications to be used as a basis for delaying, or as a substitute for, evaluation and treatment by a physician.”

Osteopathy is an alternative medical treatment involving massaging, moving, and stretching joints and muscles. Osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) are trained much like medical doctors (M.D.s) but also use osteopathic treatments.

The resolution was based on the belief that patients are increasingly turning to the web for medical information, and sometimes for advice. The AOA cites a September 2013 survey from Makovsky Health and Kelton saying that the average American spends about 52 hours each year on the Internet looking up health information.

The group called out the “symptom checker” functions at WebMD, the Isabel Symptom Checker, and EverydayHealth as being potentially dangerous if used as a sole source of medical information.

“The AOA policy recognizes that every patient is unique and may present symptoms in a different manner, which makes it necessary to schedule an in-person appointment with a physician or consult by phone, email or telemedicine,” the group said in a statement Monday.

“Additionally, medical websites and apps do not usually take into account patient medical history and have limited ability to search for possible drug interactions.”

“Physicians want to see patients educating themselves and taking control of their health and when used correctly these medical websites and apps are a great tool,” says Michael Brown, an osteopath, in the statement.

“However, the AOA wants to make sure patients realize that these sites and apps, no matter how convenient, cannot replace the patient-physician relationship,” Brown adds.

The AOA represents more than 100,000 osteopathic physicians and medical students in the U.S.


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