SPOKANE, Wash. — Someday those endless personal questions and repetitive pen-and-pencil questionnaires at your doctor’s office will be a thing of the past, if a collaboration between Spokane electronics company Flat Spin Media and Washington State University Spokane researchers pays off.

Instead, patients will use a simple handheld device that they communicate with through a touch screen or voice commands. When they reach the doctor’s office, the data is already stored, measured against diagnostic benchmarks and on screen as the starting point for their appointment.

The project recently received $66,000 in funding from the Washington Technology Center, a state-supported organization that brings together universities and private companies for research projects. It will combine software developed at the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training, based at WSU Spokane, with a notebook-sized, touch-screen input device made by Flat Spin Media.

The technology initially will be used to assess mental health patients but could have applications in other health-care settings. Flat Spin hopes to license the WSU software for future use.

Researchers believe the touch-screen method of information gathering will yield a more accurate picture because patients will feel more at ease answering questions on a screen than talking to a health-care worker when questions are sensitive, such as those concerning suicide. The usual response rate for such questionnaires is somewhere around 30 percent, but the device has increased response rates to 80 percent, says Michael Hendryx, principal investigator on the grant.

“A valuable feature of the product is that it makes it much easier for persons with physical or mental disabilities to answer a survey,” Hendryx says. “They don’t have to manipulate a pencil or a mouse but only touch a pad, and the questions and response choices can be programmed for audio play so that persons with poor reading skills can still participate.”

Joanna Ellington, director of biomedical development at WSU Spokane, assisted in with grant proposal.

bgc102-01