Imagine that your physician uses no or very little paper when talking with you, but instead uses a handheld device when communicating with you.

When talking, the physician periodically looks down to gather information from the device as though it is somehow assisting her/his thinking. Should you as a patient be offered the option to see what’s on the screen?

Recently, researchers at the University of Louisville surveyed 250 patients and family members if they think this information is any different from paper, often with a list of medical findings  gibberish to anyone outside the field of medicine

The researchers hypothesized that patients with more knowledge about medical applications of PDAs/smartphones would have more positive perception of physicians using them. The hypothesis arose from the increasing number of physicians using PDA’s/smartphones among their patients (estimated at 20%).

In order to test their hypothesis, they engaged in a case/control study in which the case group received a brief presentation on how and why physicians use PDA’s/smartphones. Patients were recruited from medical or pharmacy waiting rooms with 250 patients enrolled. The case and control groups took a survey to assess their perceptions. The case group took the survey after seeing a narrated slide presentation focussing on the positive attributes of the technology. The researchers provided a list of the topics covered by the PowerPoint in their article but do not clearly state how much time elapsed between the presentation and the survey. The control group did not receive this information.

Their results demonstrated that the group receiving the brief presentation had more favorable perceptions of the use of the devices. Also, individuals in the control group who had “high knowledge” of PDA’s/smartphones, according to the researchers, had more favorable perceptions of the use of the devices compared to individuals in the control group with “low/moderate knowledge.” A favorable perception was defined as a person answering in a positive manner toward any of the survey items. The treatment group showed more favorable perception to 5 out of 13 of the items. The control group with high knowledge showed more favorable perception to 8 out of 13 of the items.

Based on the survey findings, the researchers concluded that small amounts of information can increase the favorable perception of patients. One problem with this conclusion is that the perception was assessed close in time to the brief presentation. Perhaps the next day their views would have varied. A study which assesses viewpoints farther away from the presentation would be more realistic. The “high knowledge” individuals in the control group are a reflection of this because even without the presentation, they had certain notions of PDA’s/smartphones which impacted their thinking resulting in more favorable perceptions.

One problem with the topics is that none of them discussed the risks of physicians using PDA’s/smartphones. Even the risk that the researchers hypothesize, worse communication, is not discussed as a possibility. Another concern with the conclusion of the researchers is that it should be more limited. Instead of saying that small amounts of information can improve perceptions of the technology, they should state that small amounts of positive information can improve perceptions. Additional information regarding the risks or negative aspects of PDA’s / smartphones might lead to different results.

Some questions for the future are:

  • How does existing knowledge impact the perceptions of patients?
  • How do perceptions impact whether patients are likely to respond positively to the use of the technology ?
  • Does this response affect their health in any way?

Also, perceptions may vary with different types of devices being used (such as PDAs vs. tablets). Future studies could also standardize how physicians use the technology in order to determine if their use of the technology changes how patients perceive the technology.

The researchers also plan to compare patient/physicians communication with and without PDA’s/smartphones in the future to see how this affects the perceptions of patients.

Reference: Pubmed