Automated strategy feedback can improve the readability of physicians’ electronic communications to simulated patients

Rod D. Roscoe, Renu Balyan, Danielle S. McNamara, Michelle Banawan, Dean Schillinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Modern communication between health care professionals and patients increasingly relies upon secure messages (SMs) exchanged through an electronic patient portal. Despite the convenience of secure messaging, challenges include gaps between physician and patient expertise along with the asynchronous nature of such communication. Importantly, less readable SMs from physicians (e.g., too complicated) may result in patient confusion, non-adherence, and ultimately poorer health outcomes. The current simulation trial synthesizes work on patient-physician electronic communication, message readability assessments, and feedback to explore the potential for automated strategy feedback to improve the readability of physicians’ SMs to patients. Within a simulated secure messaging portal featuring multiple simulated patient scenarios, computational algorithms assessed the complexity of SMs written by 67 participating physicians to patients. The messaging portal provided strategy feedback for how physician responses might be improved (e.g., adding details and information to reduce complexity). Analyses of changes in SM complexity revealed that automated strategy feedback indeed helped physicians compose and refine more readable messages. Although the effects for any individual SM were slight, the cumulative effects within and across patient scenarios showed trends of decreasing complexity. Physicians appeared to learn how to craft more readable SMs via interactions with the feedback system. Implications for secure messaging systems and physician training are discussed, along with considerations for further investigation of broader physician populations and effects on patient experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103059
JournalInternational Journal of Human Computer Studies
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Automated feedback
  • Electronic health records
  • Health literacy
  • Natural language processing
  • Patient-physician communication
  • Readability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • General Engineering
  • Education
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Hardware and Architecture


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