Background: Computers that collect data from patients and provide both patients and practitioners with printed feedback on a range of health risks are a tool for assisting general practitioners with preventive care. This study assessed the impact of computer-generated printed feedback on cervical screening among women who were underscreened for cervical cancer.
Method: Female attenders at two Australian general practices were randomly allocated to Experimental or Control groups. Women in both groups completed a health risk survey on a touch screen computer prior to their consultation. Those in the Experimental group received printed pages summarizing their results, including their eligibility for cervical screening and last Pap test, for themselves and their doctor. The number and proportion of underscreened women who had a Pap test in the 6 months after completing the computer survey, as determined by pathology records, were examined.
Results: Of the 679 participants, 139 were classified as underscreened on the basis of self-report (74 Experimental, 65 Control) and 272 on the basis of their pathology records (148 Experimental, 124 Control). Overall about one-third of women had a test in the 6-month period, and the differences between the groups were not significant for women overall (18-70 years) or for women 18-49 years. Among women 50-70 who were underscreened based on self-report, those receiving the printout were more likely to have a Pap test in the next 6 months (P < 0.05). This pattern was also evident, but did not reach statistical significance, for older women who were underscreened based on pathology records.
Conclusions: We are unable to draw conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the computer system due to the modest proportions of women screened, the small numbers, and the fact that the computer survey may have created an intervention effect in the Control group. As the study suggests the computer system is acceptable to women and may be effective for encouraging screening among older women, further exploration of the system is desirable.