Effect of speech recognition on problem solving and recall in consumer digital health tasks: controlled laboratory experiment

Jessica Chen*, David Lyell, Liliana Laranjo, Farah Magrabi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Recent advances in natural language processing and artificial intelligence have led to widespread adoption of speech recognition technologies. In consumer health applications, speech recognition is usually applied to support interactions with conversational agents for data collection, decision support, and patient monitoring. However, little is known about the use of speech recognition in consumer health applications and few studies have evaluated the efficacy of conversational agents in the hands of consumers. In other consumer-facing tools, cognitive load has been observed to be an important factor affecting the use of speech recognition technologies in tasks involving problem solving and recall. Users find it more difficult to think and speak at the same time when compared to typing, pointing, and clicking. However, the effects of speech recognition on cognitive load when performing health tasks has not yet been explored.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of speech recognition for documentation in consumer digital health tasks involving problem solving and recall.

Methods: Fifty university staff and students were recruited to undertake four documentation tasks with a simulated conversational agent in a computer laboratory. The tasks varied in complexity determined by the amount of problem solving and recall required (simple and complex) and the input modality (speech recognition vs keyboard and mouse). Cognitive load, task completion time, error rate, and usability were measured.

Results: Compared to using a keyboard and mouse, speech recognition significantly increased the cognitive load for complex tasks (Z=-4.08, P<.001) and simple tasks (Z=–2.24, P=.03). Complex tasks took significantly longer to complete (Z=–2.52, P=.01) and speech recognition was found to be overall less usable than a keyboard and mouse (Z=–3.30, P=.001). However, there was no effect on errors. 

Conclusions: Use of a keyboard and mouse was preferable to speech recognition for complex tasks involving problem solving and recall. Further studies using a broader variety of consumer digital health tasks of varying complexity are needed to investigate the contexts in which use of speech recognition is most appropriate. The effects of cognitive load on task performance and its significance also need to be investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14827
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • speech recognition software
  • consumer health informatics
  • ergonomics


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