Patients are growing more comfortable receiving education and communication from health care professionals by means of computers, mobile phones, and the Internet suggests a recent study conducted at a breast disease clinic.

When Irish investigators queried 200 symptomatic breast patients about the best way to reach them, 59% favored web sites. When patients were asked to rate the usefulness of various types of media, print remained the first choice, followed by phone, web site, email, text, and apps. Those attending the clinic for the first time were more likely to prefer text messages and email while those younger than 47 years of age preferred text messages, apps, web sites, and email. As you might expect smartphone users also rated these 4 options as their top choices.

Despite patients’ openness to new media, C. O’Brien et al, reporting in the World Journal of Surgery, explain that “patients in general, regard face-to-face communication with their healthcare provide, as the most important form of communication, which has been shown ubiquitously in similar studies.” Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that their study supports the belief that many patients with symptomatic breast disease would find new media as a “helpful adjunct to current practice.”

O’Brien et al’s findings are supported by other studies that show the public’s use of computer-enhanced healthcare resources is expanding. For example, when Odigie and associates gave oncology patients in rural Africa access to a mobile phone, they found clinic return rates increased to 97%, compared to only 19% among patients who were not given the phones. When patients in a separate study were asked to fill out a family history questionnaire on a tablet, they found the questionnaire easier to follow, compared to working off of a paper-based questionnaire (70% vs 56%).