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Br J Gen Pract. 1994 Aug;44(385):367-9.

Computers in the consultation: the patient's view.

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  • 1Department of General Practice, United Medical and Dental School of Guy's Hospital, London.



The use of computers in general practice consultations is becoming widespread.


A qualitative study was undertaken to determine how patients in one practice responded to the use of computers, and the issues which particularly concerned them when doctors used computers in the consultation.


Thirty patients whose age-sex characteristics were proportional to the age-sex distribution of one practice were selected to be interviewed within two weeks of a consultation. The interviews were taped, transcribed and analysed.


Patients had seen or used computers in many other places and accepted their role in data management. Patients with more experience of computers were more aware of their limitations, particularly with regard to the possibility of loss of confidentiality. Patients did not think the use of a computer led to a loss of the personal touch in the consultation as long as verbal skills and eye contact were maintained. However, they did expect doctors using computers to have acquired computer skills. All but one patient said they wanted to see what was on the screen, although 11 did not know they had the right to read their notes on the screen.


Patients regarded the use of computers by their doctors as normal and indicative of the doctors being up to date. Most respondents were concerned about possible loss of confidentiality. This concern, and their expressed preference for computer details to be visible and shared, pose challenges to doctors' technical and communication skills.

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