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I am developing an online medical website (similar to a HIS) whose users are hospitals specifically hospital administrators, doctors, and other staff authorized by the hospital to use the system. There are many hospitals that would use the website.

There is a feature in my website where the authorized user is able to type in certain symptoms for a patient, which has an autocomplete function, which comes from my symptoms_list table. I do not have a medical database to reference every illness and symptom in the autocomplete, so I decided to allow the user to bypass the autocomplete just in case the symptom they wanted was not present, and then add that new symptom as a record in the symptoms_list table. The newly added symptom would then show up in the autocomplete of all other users as well.

Is this a good idea though to actively let users add to the list of symptoms? If not, what is a better alternative?

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I think so, otherwise you will just get support requests to add the missing symptoms.

However, you will probably also want to add a management interface to deal with misspellings and mistakes and that will give you the additional problem of persuading people to maintain the list.

An alternative/upgrade would be to have the additional autocomplete options only added to an individual users dictionary. You could perhaps update the global dictionary based on words which are in all the users dictionaries occasionally

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You could add items to this symptom list, but flag them for moderator intervention. Someone could simply misspell a common symptom ("runy nose" compared to "runny nose"). User added symptoms should require approval by someone to prevent duplicates as well (runny nose vs snotty nose).

Only after approval should the user entered symptoms shows up in the suggestions.

A slight variation would be to allow your system to flag certain end users as moderators, if you have a few trusted doctors or nurses. Then they could curate this list for you.

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Why don't you get a comprehensive list of symptoms? At the very least, having the user add to the list is non-ideal. You will have much higher maintenance overhead, not to mention the user frustration when they can't find the symptom listed.

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