Talking touchscreens aid patients

July 9, 2010

Multimedia talking touchscreens, housed in computer kiosks at clinics and hospitals, are helping researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and clinicians at local health care centers enhance patient-centered care for patients with diverse language, literacy and computer skills.

The easy-to-use touchscreens read questionnaires, provide patient education material and collect patient data. Each piece of text on the screen has sound attached to it, and users record answers by pressing buttons.

The talking touchscreens are currently being used in a Communication study funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Three Chicago-area cancer clinics for underserved populations are participating in the study to administer education material to newly diagnosed breast and colorectal cancer patients.

Elizabeth Hahn, an associate professor in the department of medical social sciences at Feinberg, developed the touchscreens as a tool to help end health disparities in underserved populations. Right now, the computer is capable of talking in English and Spanish. More languages may be added in the future, Hahn said.

This tool provides more privacy and allows people to complete questionnaires in their native language, at their own pace.

Hahn's current study includes up to 200 study participants. Half of the participants get standard booklets printed with educational information, the other half get that same information on the multimedia talking touchscreen.

"Our goal is to demonstrate that information from a multimedia touchscreen can improve satisfaction with communication, knowledge, self-efficacy and adherence to treatment compared to information provided in standard booklets," she said.

People with good reading skills may benefit from the technology as well, Hahn said, because the addition of audio may enhance concentration. The kiosk also houses informational videos and other tools such as a patient-generated list of topics to discuss with their health care providers.

In the future, Hahn hopes that every clinic waiting room will have talking touchscreen technology. After registering at the front desk, a patient could sit at the kiosk, complete questionnaires, access health information and even feed their data into an electronic medical record.

"Imagine being able to have that information available, so that by the time patients get in to see their doctors, there would be a print-out with a quality of life score, a health literacy score and self-identified needs for today's visit," Hahn said. "We have the technology to do it. That link of getting it to the electronic medical record is an area we are working on now."

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