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J Support Oncol. 2009 May-Jun;7(3):91-7.

Use of tablet personal computers for sensitive patient-reported information.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Medical Oncology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA.


Notebook-style computers (e/Tablets) are increasingly replacing paper methods for collecting patient-reported information. Discrepancies in data between these methods have been found in oncology for sexuality-related questions. A study was performed to formulate hypotheses regarding causes for discrepant responses and to analyze whether electronic data collection adds value over paper-based methods when collecting data on sensitive topics. A total of 56 breast cancer patients visiting Duke Breast Clinic (North Carolina) participated by responding to 12 subscales of 5 survey instruments in electronic (e/Tablet) format and to a paper version of 1 of these surveys, at each visit. Twenty-one participants (38%) provided dissimilar responses on paper and electronic surveys to one item of the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General (FACT-G) Social Well-Being scale that asked patients to rate their satisfaction with their current sex life. Among these 21 patients were 8 patients who answered the question in the electronic environment, and 13 patients who answered both paper and electronic versions but with different responses. Eleven patients (29%) did not respond to the item on either e/Tablet or paper; 45 patients (80%) answered it on e/Tablet; and 37 patients (66%) responded on the paper version. The e/Tablet electronic system may provide a "safer" environment than paper questionnaires for cancer patients to answer private or highly personal questions on sensitive topics such as sexuality.

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