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Ed Psych scholar developing computer-animated doctors to explain medical results to patients

by Sharita Forrest / May 8, 2017

Dan Morrow

When viewing their latest medical tests via an online portal, patients may wonder: Should they be planning their 100th birthday party or begin writing their wills? Thankfully, educational psychologist Daniel Morrow is leading a project focused on helping people with low health literacy better understand their health data.

Under development is a computer-generated physician that explains test results to viewers in easy-to-understand terms, using graphics to compare patients’ test scores with ideal scores and conveying risks of serious health conditions. The video could also explain test results to viewers.

The physician—or computer agent, as it’s called in a paper about the project—was developed collaboratively by scientists at the University of Illinois’ Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and Carle Foundation Hospital’s Research Institute. The goal of the project is to make electronic medical record portal messages more useful and engaging for patients, particularly older adults with lower levels of health literacy.

“Patient portals have really great potential for expanding patient-centered care because they provide patients with ready access to information about their own health status, treatments and medications,” said Morrow, who is the chair of the Department of Educational Psychology and a recently named inaugural faculty member of the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine. “However, the way portals are typically designed poses a challenge for anybody, but they are particularly problematic for older adults who may be less familiar with or comfortable with technology.”

The system is a long way from being implemented with Carle’s patients or those of other providers, according to Morrow, who is also examining with researchers at Beckman Institute how comprehension and memory impact self-care. The next step will be to obtain a grant to fund refinements to the design and possibly a pilot study in which patients utilize the system through a provider’s web portal.

Discover more about computer-generated doctors from an Illinois News Bureau article.