Some patients don't like it when doctors use digital diagnostic tools

Apr 3, 2013

  Almost gone are the days when physicians collect your medical records in yellow manila folders stacked ceiling-high behind the nurses’ counter.

More and more medical professionals in the U.S. are using an electronic health records system to do things like store patient data, call up medical records and even prescribe medications. A Department of Health and Human Services survey found that in 2011, 35 percent of all U.S. hospitals have adopted an electronic health records system. It's a pretty rapid growthin 2009, only 16 percent of U.S. hospitals use the system.

Many of these electronic systems are so handy they even have decision-making software—a tool that helps physicians make treatment recommendations and diagnoses.

“The idea is that a physician can open one up and maybe use one to diagnose whether a patient has appendicitis and decide whether they want to operate,” said Victoria Shaffer, an MU psychologist who studies the decision-making side of the electronic health records system.

Not all patients like this high-tech diagnoses tool, though.

In an experimental study, Shaffer compared the ratings patients give to physicians who didn’t ask for advice, physicians who asked another expert for advice, and physicians who used the decision-making software for treatment advice.

“Patients had no problem with [physicians who seek] consulting advice from an expert,” Shaffer said. “It was really the use of the computerized decision aid that makes them most concerned.”

Shaffer said she doesn’t know exactly yet why patients don’t like the tool—but she does have a hypothesis. 

“We thought that people think that their relationship with their physician is a humanizing piece,” she said. “And so perhaps when you plop down a computer or an iPad in the middle of this, people are concerned that they start to lose their connection and that relationship.”

Shaffer says dissatisfaction with the computerized decision-making system can lead to patients not following treatment recommendations. She says she does think most people eventually will get used to the technology, but it may be some time before that happens.