Reported in the November issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the study found that patients who used a computer to learn about a screening test for colon cancer were just as knowledgeable about the topic as patients who were educated by a nurse. In addition, the two groups had equal success rates completing the screening test.
"With physicians frequently reporting inadequate time with patients, computer-assisted instruction is a potentially time-saving and cost-effective patient education solution," said David Miller Jr., M.D., lead author and an internal medicine specialist.
In addition, Miller said, the research suggests the potential for computer-assisted instruction to help increase screening rates for colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Reported barriers to screening are patient confusion about the screening process and physicians' lack of time to educate their patients.
"This study shows us that even patients with no computer experience can learn just as well from a computer program," said Miller. "The opportunities are boundless to use computers to educate patients. It can save time for a busy medical practice and allow patients to learn at their own pace."
The research involved 194 patients over age 50 whose doctors recommended a fecal occult blood test, which is completed at home. Participants were randomly assigned to learn about the test from a nurse or from an educational computer program. The two groups were similar: half of the patients had not graduated from high school and few had ever used a computer. Most of the patients (65 percent) had never received any screening tests for colon cancer.