HumanInsight Physician eye contact in telemedicine video consultations: A cross-cultural experiment
Int J Med Inform. 2022 Jul 3;165:104825. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2022.104825. Online ahead of print.
INTRODUCTION: Eye contact is generally considered a beneficial non-verbal behavior in patient-physician communication. Physicians are advised to simulate eye contact during video consultations by gazing at the camera, although we lack evidence that doing so is beneficial. This work is a cross-cultural experiment that aims to answer: "Are physicians who gaze at the camera during video consultations perceived as making eye contact, and are their communication skills rated higher?"
METHODS: 43 Japanese and 61 Lebanese participants watched videos of physicians providing the same video consultations while gazing at the camera and screen. After watching each video, they rated the physicians' communication skills using six items from the GCRS and the MAAS-G scales. They also picked and justified their preferred physician gaze direction.
RESULTS: When physicians gazed at the camera, they were perceived as making more eye contact and received higher communication and interpersonal skills ratings, both in Japan and Lebanon. The effect of gazing at the camera was consistently positive but varied by country and consultation content. In Japan, simulating eye contact improved the ratings of the attentive and caring physician, whereas in Lebanon, it improved the ratings of the tired and inattentive physician. When asked to choose their preferred gaze direction, 88.4% of Japanese and 90.2% of Lebanese participants chose camera gaze over screen gaze due to its positive effect on patient feelings and physician perception. Participants who chose screen gaze noted the unnaturalness of gazing at the camera and its potential negative impact on care quality.
CONCLUSION: Physicians providing video consultations can simulate eye contact by gazing at the camera. Doing so improves their communication and interpersonal skills ratings and could potentially enhance their communication with their patients. Mainstream video conferencing platforms could implement gaze correction methods to simulate eye contact without affecting the physicians' experience and capacity to provide quality care.
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