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J Med Internet Res. 2013 Nov 27;15(11):e263. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2758.

Smartphones as multimodal communication devices to facilitate clinical knowledge processes: randomized controlled trial.

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  • 1Institute for Information Systems, School of Business, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland FHNW, Basel, Switzerland.



Despite the widespread use and advancements of mobile technology that facilitate rich communication modes, there is little evidence demonstrating the value of smartphones for effective interclinician communication and knowledge processes.


The objective of this study was to determine the effects of different synchronous smartphone-based modes of communication, such as (1) speech only, (2) speech and images, and (3) speech, images, and image annotation (guided noticing) on the recall and transfer of visually and verbally represented medical knowledge.


The experiment was conducted from November 2011 to May 2012 at the University Hospital Basel (Switzerland) with 42 medical students in a master's program. All participants analyzed a standardized case (a patient with a subcapital fracture of the fifth metacarpal bone) based on a radiological image, photographs of the hand, and textual descriptions, and were asked to consult a remote surgical specialist via a smartphone. Participants were randomly assigned to 3 experimental conditions/groups. In group 1, the specialist provided verbal explanations (speech only). In group 2, the specialist provided verbal explanations and displayed the radiological image and the photographs to the participants (speech and images). In group 3, the specialist provided verbal explanations, displayed the radiological image and the photographs, and annotated the radiological image by drawing structures/angle elements (speech, images, and image annotation). To assess knowledge recall, participants were asked to write brief summaries of the case (verbally represented knowledge) after the consultation and to re-analyze the diagnostic images (visually represented knowledge). To assess knowledge transfer, participants analyzed a similar case without specialist support.


Data analysis by ANOVA found that participants in groups 2 and 3 (images used) evaluated the support provided by the specialist as significantly more positive than group 1, the speech-only group (group 1: mean 4.08, SD 0.90; group 2: mean 4.73, SD 0.59; group 3: mean 4.93, SD 0.25; F2,39=6.76, P=.003; partial η(2)=0.26, 1-β=.90). However, significant positive effects on the recall and transfer of visually represented medical knowledge were only observed when the smartphone-based communication involved the combination of speech, images, and image annotation (group 3). There were no significant positive effects on the recall and transfer of visually represented knowledge between group 1 (speech only) and group 2 (speech and images). No significant differences were observed between the groups regarding verbally represented medical knowledge.


The results show (1) the value of annotation functions for digital and mobile technology for interclinician communication and medical informatics, and (2) the use of guided noticing (the integration of speech, images, and image annotation) leads to significantly improved knowledge gains for visually represented knowledge. This is particularly valuable in situations involving complex visual subject matters, typical in clinical practice.


audiovisual aids; educational technology; learning; mobile health; mobile phone; multimedia; problem solving; telemedicine

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