There's an app for that: Teaching residents to communicate diagnostic uncertainty through a mobile gaming application

Patient Educ Couns. 2022 Jun;105(6):1463-1469. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2021.09.038. Epub 2021 Oct 5.


Background: Clear communication is integral to good clinical care; however, communication training is cost and time intensive. Mobile applications (apps) may provide a useful adjunct to traditional simulation skills training.

Objective: To evaluate (1) use of an app for teaching communication skills about diagnostic uncertainty, (2) feedback on app use, and (3) the association between use and skill mastery.

Patient involvement: The app under study is designed to improve doctor-patient communication.

Methods: The study was a planned sub-analysis of a randomized controlled waitlist trial with emergency medicine resident physicians randomized to receive immediate or delayed access to an educational curriculum focused on diagnostic uncertainty. The curriculum included a web-based interactive module and the app. Metrics describing participants' use of the app, feedback on use, and association of use and achieving mastery in communicating diagnostic uncertainty are reported. Differences between groups utilizing the app were analyzed using Chi-squared test; logistic regression assessed the association between app use and achieving mastery of the communication skill.

Results: Among 109 participants completing the trial, only 34 (31.2%) used the app. Most participants engaged with the app on one occasion for a median of 50 min (IQR 31, 87). Senior residents were more likely to use the app than junior residents (41.3% vs 23.8%, p=0.05). Overall reviews were positive; 76% reported the app helped them learn. There was no significant association between app use and achieving mastery of the communication skill in the trial [OR 2.1, 95% CI (0.91-4.84)].

Discussion: Despite positive reviews of app use, overall use was low and there was no association with achieving mastery.

Practical value: Offering an app as an auxiliary training opportunity may be beneficial to some residents, but shouldn't be planned for use as a primary didactic modality unless there is evidence for effectiveness and use is mandated.

Availability of data and materials: The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available since some data may be identifiable but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Keywords: Diagnostic uncertainty; Doctor-patient communication; Medical education; Mobile application.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Uncertainty
  • Video Games*