Muhammad Walji, Ph.D.
Published: January 14, 2009 by
assistant professor of diagnostic sciences, Dental Branch
Presentation can help patients understand, comply with instructions
Studying how health information is presented to patients and providers guided Muhammad Walji, Ph.D., toward an important finding.
Walji, whose research projects focus on the emerging field of health informatics, found that if health and medical information is presented effectively and persuasively, it can drastically change the attitudes and behaviors of patients.
“For example, we were able to reduce the number of missed clinic appointments by simply changing the words and increasing the persuasiveness in an automated appointment reminder message,” Walji explained.
Health informatics is the study of how data is collected, stored, communicated and presented in order to improve health care. Walji’s work focuses on the use of technology to enhance the way health information is conveyed to patients and providers.
Because the field of health informatics is so broad, Walji is able to apply his expertise to three different projects.
“I am working on a project to improve home oral health hygiene through a “Persuasive Toothbrush” that can track and monitor brushing habits automatically,” Walji said. “I also study the quality of online health information to determine how patients may use what they find online to make decisions. I also work on human-computer interaction research such as how to improve the usability of health information systems in order to improve patient care.”
Walji has found that the way health information is presented online is misleading and that many Web sites may be harmful.
Additionally, his research shows that expensive health information technology systems, such as electronic health records, are not well designed.
“Poorly designed systems may make it harder for health care providers (dentists, doctors, nurses, etc.) to do their jobs efficiently and may sometimes even increase medical errors,” Walji explained. “I hope that our human-computer interaction and usability research will lead to better designed systems that can improve the delivery and quality of patient care.”
Walji’s work has the potential of helping patients make better and informed decisions about their own care.
“By understanding how to persuasively present information to patients through technology, I hope that our research will help to improve adherence to recommended and beneficial behaviors, such as improving oral hygiene, taking medications and/or increasing physical activity levels,” he said.