Mobile health IT: The effect of user interface and form factor on doctor-patient communication

Ole Andreas Alsos, Anita Das, Dag Svanæs

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review



Introducing computers into primary care can have negative effects on the doctor–patient dialogue. Little is known about such effects of mobile health IT in point-of-care situations.


To assess how different mobile information devices used by physicians in point-of-care situations support or hinder aspects of doctor–patient communication, such as face-to-face dialogue, nonverbal communication, and action transparency.


The study draws on two different experimental simulation studies where 22 doctors, in 80 simulated ward rounds, accessed patient-related information from a paper chart, a PDA, and a laptop mounted on a trolley. Video recordings from the simulations were analyzed qualitatively. Interviews with clinicians and patients were used to triangulate the findings and to verify the realism and results of the simulations.


The paper chart afforded smooth re-establishment of eye contact, better verbal and non-verbal contact, more gesturing, good visibility of actions, and quick information retrieval. The digital information devices lacked many of these affordances; physicians’ actions were not visible for the patients, the user interfaces required much attention, gesturing was harder, and re-establishment of eye contact took more time. Physicians used the devices to display their actions to the patients. The analysis revealed that the findings were related to the user interface and form factor of the information devices, as well as the personal characteristics of the physician.


When information is needed and has to be located at the point-of-care, the user interface and the physical form factor of the mobile information device are influential elements for successful collaboration between doctors and patients. Both elements need to be carefully designed so that physicians can use the devices to support face-to-face dialogue, nonverbal communication, and action visibility. The ability to facilitate and support the doctor–patient collaboration is a noteworthy usability factor in the design of mobile EPR systems. The paper also presents possible design guidelines for mobile point-of-care systems for improved doctor–patient communication.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)12-28
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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