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Use of symptom checkers for COVID-19-related symptoms among university students: a qualitative study
  1. Stephanie Aboueid,
  2. Samantha B Meyer,
  3. James R Wallace,
  4. Shreya Mahajan,
  5. Teeyaa Nur,
  6. Ashok Chaurasia
  1. Public Health and Health Systems, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Stephanie Aboueid, Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; seaboueid{at}


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

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  • Contributors SA conceived and designed the study. SBM and AC assisted in the conception of the study. SA conducted and transcribed all qualitative interviews. SA, SM and TN analysed the data. SA drafted the manuscript. All authors reviewed and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval This study was approved by the University of Waterloo Research Ethics Board. Research ethics approval number: 41366.

  • 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.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.