Patients Question Clinical Decision Support Use

Posted on January 30, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

Using clinical decision support technology (CDS) is such a standard and helpful health IT approach – not to mention a central Meaningful Use feature — that we almost take its existence for granted. Apparently, however, patients aren’t as tolerant of computer-assisted decision making as clinicians and IT experts are, according to a new study published in Medical Decision Making.

The study suggests that patients actually distrust physicians who use CDS, labeling them as “less professional, less thorough, and having less diagnostic ability,” according to a report by EHR Intelligence.

The study, done by University of Missouri researchers, showed participants vignettes depicting an exam for an illness or injury. These participants were then asked to rate their reactions to the physicians showed in the vignettes.

The results suggest strongly that potential patients are unnerved by the notion of physicians making use of CDS.  Researchers found that the study subjects were less likely to trust computer-driven diagnoses, and moreover, less likely to be happy with a positive outcome if that outcome involved CDS use.

Perhaps the only social benefit to physicians using CDS was that subjects were less likely to blame a doctor for a negative outcome if the doctor relied on CDS to make a decision.  If a doctor used CDS, ignored its conclusions then had a negative outcome, patients felt strongly that he or she was deserving of punishment.

It’s not exactly good news for healthcare providers that patients are likely to be squeamish about their using CDS. That being said, my guess is that doctors can do a lot to make patients comfortable simply by explaining what they’re doing and making patients feel confident about the process. In the end, after all, patients care most about their relationship with the provider, computer-aided or not.