Internet tool to support self-assessment and self-swabbing of sore throat: development and feasibility study

Mark Lown, Kirsten A. Smith, Ingrid Muller, Catherine Woods, Emma Maund, Kirsty Rogers, Taeko Becque, Gail Hayward, Michael Moore, Paul Little, Margaret Glogowska, Alastair Hay, Beth Stuart, Efi Mantzourani, Christopher R. Wilcox, Natalie Thompson, Nick A. Francis

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Background: Sore throat is a common problem and a common reason for the overuse of antibiotics. A web-based tool that helps people assess their sore throat, through the use of clinical prediction rules, taking throat swabs or saliva samples, and taking throat photographs, has the potential to improve self-management and help identify those who are the most and least likely to benefit from antibiotics. 

Objective: We aimed to develop a web-based tool to help patients and parents or carers self-assess sore throat symptoms and take throat photographs, swabs, and saliva samples for diagnostic testing. We then explored the acceptability and feasibility of using the tool in adults and children with sore throats. 

Methods: We used the Person-Based Approach to develop a web-based tool and then recruited adults and children with sore throats who participated in this study by attending general practices or through social media advertising. Participants self-assessed the presence of FeverPAIN and Centor score criteria and attempted to photograph their throat and take throat swabs and saliva tests. Study processes were observed via video call, and participants were interviewed about their views on using the web-based tool. Self-assessed throat inflammation and pus were compared to clinician evaluation of patients' throat photographs. 

Results: A total of 45 participants (33 adults and 12 children) were recruited. Of these, 35 (78%) and 32 (71%) participants completed all scoring elements for FeverPAIN and Centor scores, respectively, and most (30/45, 67%) of them reported finding self-assessment relatively easy. No valid response was provided for swollen lymph nodes, throat inflammation, and pus on the throat by 11 (24%), 9 (20%), and 13 (29%) participants respectively. A total of 18 (40%) participants provided a throat photograph of adequate quality for clinical assessment. Patient assessment of inflammation had a sensitivity of 100% (3/3) and specificity of 47% (7/15) compared with the clinician-assessed photographs. For pus on the throat, the sensitivity was 100% (3/3) and the specificity was 71% (10/14). A total of 89% (40/45), 93% (42/45), 89% (40/45), and 80% (30/45) of participants provided analyzable bacterial swabs, viral swabs, saliva sponges, and saliva drool samples, respectively. Participants were generally happy and confident in providing samples, with saliva samples rated as slightly more acceptable than swab samples. 

Conclusions: Most adult and parent participants were able to use a web-based intervention to assess the clinical features of throat infections and generate scores using clinical prediction rules. However, some had difficulties assessing clinical signs, such as lymph nodes, throat pus, and inflammation, and scores were assessed as sensitive but not specific. Many participants had problems taking photographs of adequate quality, but most were able to take throat swabs and saliva samples.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere39791
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2023


  • acceptability
  • adult
  • antibiotic
  • antibiotics
  • children
  • clinical
  • dental
  • dentist
  • develop
  • development
  • diagnostic testing
  • ear, neck, throat
  • feasibility
  • inflammation
  • lab
  • laboratory
  • mobile phone
  • mouth
  • neck
  • oral
  • oral health
  • pharyngitis
  • primary care
  • saliva
  • samples
  • self-assess
  • self-assessment
  • self-swabbing
  • social media
  • sore throat
  • support
  • swab
  • symptoms
  • teeth
  • think-aloud
  • throat
  • tongue
  • tonsil
  • tool
  • tooth
  • web-based support tool
  • web-based tool

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