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Original research
Use of symptom checkers for COVID-19-related symptoms among university students: a qualitative study


Objective Symptom checkers are potentially beneficial tools during pandemics. To increase the use of the platform, perspectives of end users must be gathered. Our objectives were to understand the perspectives and experiences of young adults related to the use of symptom checkers for assessing COVID-19-related symptoms and to identify areas for improvement.

Methods We conducted semistructured qualitative interviews with 22 young adults (18–34 years of age) at a university in Ontario, Canada. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analysed using inductive thematic analysis.

Results We identified six main themes related to the decision of using a symptom checker for COVID-19 symptoms: (1) presence of symptoms or a combination of symptoms, (2) knowledge about COVID-19 symptoms, (3) fear of seeking in-person healthcare services, (4) awareness about symptom checkers, (5) paranoia and (6) curiosity. Participants who used symptom checkers shared by governmental entities reported an overall positive experience. Individuals who used non-credible sources reported suboptimal experiences due to lack of perceived credibility. Five main areas for improvement were identified: (1) information about the creators of the platform, (2) explanation of symptoms, (3) personalised experience, (4) language options, and (5) option to get tested.

Conclusions This study suggests an increased acceptance of symptom checkers due to the perceived risks of infection associated with seeking in-person healthcare services. Symptom checkers have the potential to reduce the burden on healthcare systems and health professionals, especially during pandemics; however, these platforms could be improved to increase use.

  • health services research
  • public health
  • self care

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Deidentified data (ie, participant responses only) are available upon reasonable request from the first author, Stephanie Aboueid ( and can only be shared following the approval from the University of Waterloo Research Ethics Board.

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ’s website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

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