The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

November 9, 2013

Strep app might help tell if you need a doc

WASHINGTON — Debating whether to seek a strep test for that sore throat? One day there could be an app for that: Researchers are developing a home scorecard that aims to prevent thousands of unnecessary trips to the doctor for this common complaint.

More than 12 million people make doctors’ visits for a sore throat every year. Usually the culprit is a virus that they just have to wait out with a little TLC.

In fact, the risk of strep throat is low enough for adults that doctors may skip testing them, deciding not to bother after running down a list of symptoms. That can leave patients wondering why they spent hours in the waiting room and had to pay the doctor’s bill.

“If you could know that your risk was low enough that you wouldn’t even be tested, you might actually save yourself a visit,” said Dr. Andrew Fine, an emergency physician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The trick: Combine some of the symptoms that doctors look for with a bit of computer data to tell if strep throat is circulating in your geographical region. If the bug’s in your neighborhood, that increases the chances that you’ve caught it, said Dr. Kenneth Mandl, a Harvard professor and informatics specialist with Boston Children’s.

As a first step, Fine and Mandl turned to the records of more than 70,000 sore-throat patients who got strep tests and had their symptoms recorded at CVS MinuteClinics in six states between 2006 and 2008. They determined those people’s risk of strep using the experimental scorecard approach and checked the computer model’s accuracy against the strep test results.

Nationally, identifying those with less than a 10 percent chance of strep throat could save 230,000 doctor visits a year, the team reported Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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