Patients: Thanks doc, but iPads are the best medicine

14 Mar 2016

It looks like tablets are better than doctors at distributing medical information to patients, a sentence I never thought I’d type.

Australian researchers have found that patients that get their medical information from cartoon videos on tablets (iPads, in this case) take in far more than those spoken to by doctors.

It’s a bizarre study, but one which shows a 15.5pc increase in understanding among patients when devices are used. Just one in five prefer face-to-face meetings, too.

“Patients often find it difficult to understand the medical language used by doctors during face-to-face standard verbal communication, and they often feel intimidated by the interaction,” said Matthew Winter, who led the research.

Winter also surmises that the limited time doctors can dedicate to explaining what is going on to each patient makes for an even more confusing interaction, saying patients often “find it difficult to comprehend” any upcoming procedure. Cartoons, though, work like a charm.

Small pool, but telling results

The study was pretty straight forward, with 88 patients facing surgery used as the testing pool.

Half were greeted by doctors, who explained the surgery. The others learned via tablets, within which doctors narrated over a cartoon. A subsequent test then showed the latter group picked up far more. They swapped around and went through the procedure once more, with that result, too, favouring tablets.

“Informed consent for patients undergoing procedures is both an ethical and legal responsibility and crucially important for optimising treatment,” said Winter, who notes patient-doctor interaction has not advanced alongside medical discoveries.

“We are not saying that using portable video media should replace consent. Our work shows that there are alternatives to interviews, which can help significantly improve patient understanding and satisfaction.”

Surgery? There’s an app for that.

Patient using a tablet image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic