Exploring the Use of Wearable Sensors and Natural Language Processing Technology to Improve Patient-Clinician Communication: Protocol for a Feasibility Study

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JMIR Res Protoc. 2022 May 20;11(5):e37975. doi: 10.2196/37975.


BACKGROUND: Effective communication is the bedrock of quality health care, but it continues to be a major problem for patients, family caregivers, health care providers, and organizations. Although progress related to communication skills training for health care providers has been made, clinical practice and research gaps persist, particularly regarding how to best monitor, measure, and evaluate the implementation of communication skills in the actual clinical setting and provide timely feedback about communication effectiveness and quality.

OBJECTIVE: Our interdisciplinary team of investigators aims to develop, and pilot test, a novel sensing system and associated natural language processing algorithms (CommSense) that can (1) be used on mobile devices, such as smartwatches; (2) reliably capture patient-clinician interactions in a clinical setting; and (3) process these communications to extract key markers of communication effectiveness and quality. The long-term goal of this research is to use CommSense in a variety of health care contexts to provide real-time feedback to end users to improve communication and patient health outcomes.

METHODS: This is a 1-year pilot study. During Phase I (Aim 1), we will identify feasible metrics of communication to extract from conversations using CommSense. To achieve this, clinical investigators will conduct a thorough review of the recent health care communication and palliative care literature to develop an evidence-based “ideal and optimal” list of communication metrics. This list will be discussed collaboratively within the study team and consensus will be reached regarding the included items. In Phase II (Aim 2), we will develop the CommSense software by sharing the “ideal and optimal” list of communication metrics with engineering investigators to gauge technical feasibility. CommSense will build upon prior work using an existing Android smartwatch platform (SWear) and will include sensing modules that can collect (1) physiological metrics via embedded sensors to measure markers of stress (eg, heart rate variability), (2) gesture data via embedded accelerometer and gyroscope sensors, and (3) voice and ultimately textual features via the embedded microphone. In Phase III (Aim 3), we will pilot test the ability of CommSense to accurately extract identified communication metrics using simulated clinical scenarios with nurse and physician participants.

RESULTS: Development of the CommSense platform began in November 2021, with participant recruitment expected to begin in summer 2022. We anticipate that preliminary results will be available in fall 2022.

CONCLUSIONS: CommSense is poised to make a valuable contribution to communication science, ubiquitous computing technologies, and natural language processing. We are particularly eager to explore the ability of CommSense to support effective virtual and remote health care interactions and reduce disparities related to patient-clinician communication in the context of serious illness.


PMID:35594139 | DOI:10.2196/37975