Feeling More Comfortable with Computers

Tom Jacobs writing for Pacific Standard about a study of how patients feel when describing symptoms to a computer instead of a human:

The result: People disclosed information more honestly and openly when they were told they were speaking exclusively to the computer. The participants also “reported significantly lower fear of self-disclosure” under those circumstances. These results were reiterated by the analysis of their facial expressions, which found they “allowed themselves to display more intense expressions of sadness” when they believed no human was watching them.

This makes perfect sense to me. I can't remember a time when I felt too embarrassed to tell my doctor something, but I've definitely felt judged by doctors, who acted as if I'd come to them for minor ailments. The feeling of judgement certainly affected how much I told them, and I know I'm not alone in this experience. I know a woman who once went to a doctor because she had recently experienced some weight loss and was having dizzy spells. Her impression was that the doctor assumed she was anorexic. He gave her a prescription for anti-dizziness pills, as if that was the problem she was trying to solve.

In a piece for the New Yorker about how doctors make decisions, Jerome Groopman wrote,

Doctors typically begin to diagnose patients the moment they meet them. Even before they conduct an examination, they are interpreting a patient’s appearance: his complexion, the tilt of his head, the movements of his eyes and mouth, the way he sits or stands up, the sound of his breathing. Doctors’ theories about what is wrong continue to evolve as they listen to the patient’s heart, or press on his liver. But research shows that most physicians already have in mind two or three possible diagnoses within minutes of meeting a patient, and that they tend to develop their hunches from very incomplete information.

Perhaps using computers for patient intake could improve both sides of the equation: putting the patent more at ease to share all the relevant information, and giving the doctor a fuller picture of that information before they start forming a premature diagnosis.