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Bridging Expectations Between Doctors And Patients When It Comes To Digital Data

Jennifer Wing
A new study from the University of Washington shows how expectations between doctors and patients can sometimes not be aligned when it comes to reviewing digital health data.


Apps on our phones, our watches and other devices are constantly gathering data about our health. A new study from the University of Washington shows that there can be a huge gap in expectations when patients want their doctor to review this information.

For example, a patient needs to lose weight and eat a healthier diet. So, their doctor tells them to monitor their meals and exercise. At a follow-up visit, the patient arrives with results they’ve been tracking through apps on their phone and they’re excited to share the information.


Sean Munson, an assistant professor at Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington, said for lot of medical providers, looking at someone else's phone can be really awkward.


“I don’t know if you’ve ever been given someone else's phone when they’re trying to show you something and they start getting notifications and it kind of feels weird and creepy. Well, it turns out that providers have that same feeling. Where you’re not just getting someone’s food diary, but you’re getting someone’s device with all of their communication on it,” said Munson.


Munson is one of the lead authors of a study that looks at expectations of patients and doctors  around reviewing personally collected digital data. The patients in the study were being seen for weight loss and irritable bowel syndrome.


Munson found that even if doctors just take a quick look at what patients bring in, it can improve the relationship.


“By showing, 'Look, I really am trying to increase my physical activity, or I really am trying to reduce my calorie count, but I'm still having trouble.’ They’re hoping to get a little more empathy from their providers for the efforts they are putting in,” said Munson.  


The study did not look at the accuracy of these digital applications. Hard copy, paper, accounts might not be reliable either.


Doctor Jasmine Zia, a gastroenterologist who participated in the research, said a yet-to-be-published study looks at how doctors interpret paper diaries kept by patients who are trying figure out which foods don’t agree with them.


Dr. Zia said eight different medical providers went through the same information and they all had completely different interpretations.


“So that’s kind of scary, but it also shows how much more we need. We need an algorithm, we need some sort computerized thing to make it more standardized, to make it less subjective,” she said.


Dr. Zia is working on developing an application that she hopes will do just that.


Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.