Digital Diagnostic Tools Unpopular with Patients, Study Finds


A recent study from the University of Missouri to explore how patients react to physicians’ use of computerized clinical decision support systems finds that these devices could leave patients feeling ignored and dissatisfied with their medical care, potentially increasing noncompliance with treatment while distracting physicians from the patient encounter.1

“Patients may be concerned that the decision aids reduce their face-to-face time with physicians,” says lead author Victoria Shaffer, PhD, assistant professor of health and psychological sciences at the University of Missouri. She recommends incorporating computerized systems as teaching tools to engage patients and help them understand their diagnoses and recommendations. “Anything physicians or nurses can do to humanize the process may make patients more comfortable,” she says.

The study presented participants with written descriptions of hypothetical physician-patient encounters, with the physician using unaided judgment, pursuing advice from a medical expert, or using computerized clinical decision support. Physicians using the latter were viewed as less capable, but participants also were less likely to assign those physicians responsibility for negative outcomes.

A concurrent study from Missouri, part of a $14 million project funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to reduce avoidable rehospitalizations of nursing home residents, suggests that sophisticated information technology (IT) can lead to more robust and integrated communication strategies among clinical staff, as well as better-coordinated care.2 Nursing informatics expert Gregory Alexander found that nursing homes with IT used it to help make clinical decisions, electronically track patient care, and securely relay medical information.


  1. Shaffer VA, Probst CA, Merkle EC, Arkes HR, Mitchell AM. Why do patients derogate physicians who use a computer-based diagnostic support system? Med Decis Making. 2013;33(1):108-118.
  2. Alexander GL, Steege LM, Pasupathy KS, Wise K. Case studies of IT sophistication in nursing homes: a mixed method approach to examine communication strategies about pressure ulcer prevention practices. SciVerse website. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169814112001229. Accessed March 10, 2013.

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