Computer-assisted history-taking systems (CAHTS) in health care: benefits, risks and potential for further development.
ABSTRACT A computer-assisted history-taking system (CAHTS) is a tool that aids clinicians in gathering data from patients to inform a diagnosis or treatment plan. Despite the many possible applications and even though CAHTS have been available for nearly three decades, these remain underused in routine clinical practice.
Through an interpretative review of the literature, we provide an overview of the field of CAHTS, which also offers an understanding of the impact of these systems on policy, practice and research.
We conducted a search and critique of the literature on CAHTS. Using a comprehensive set of terms, we searched: MEDLINE, EMBASE, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, The Cochrane Methodology Register, Health Technology Assessment Database and the NHS Economic Evaluation Database over a ten-year period (January 1997 to May 2007) to identify systematic reviews, technical reports and health technology assessments, and randomised controlled trials.
The systematic review of the literature suggests that CAHTS can save professionals' time, improve delivery of care to those with special needs and also facilitate the collection of information, especially potentially sensitive information (e.g. sexual history, alcohol consumption). The use of CAHTS also has disadvantages that impede the process of history taking and may pose risks to patients. CAHTS are inherently limited when detecting non-verbal communication, may pose irrelevant questions and frustrate the users with technical problems. Our review suggests that barriers such as a preference for pen-and-paper methods and concerns about data loss and security still exist and affect the adoption of CAHTS. In terms of policy and practice, CAHTS make input of data from disparate sites possible, which facilitates work from disparate sites and the collection of data for nationwide screening programmes such as the vascular risk assessment programme for people aged 40-74, now starting in England.
Our review shows that for CAHTS to be adopted in mainstream health care, important changes should take place in how we conceive, plan and conduct primary and secondary research on the topic so that we provide the framework for a comprehensive evaluation that will lead to an evidence base to inform policy and practice.