Robo-dentist? Well, not exactly. But a recent study conducted at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in Cleveland concluded that most people do not mind (or even prefer) receiving their follow-up oral hygiene information from an iPad rather than directly from a healthcare professional.

It's no great surprise as most of us are already using smartphones, computers and tablets on a regular basis for everything from work and social networking to entertainment, personal banking and so much more.

The research, published in the Dentistry Journal, evaluated 60 patients for their willingness and ability to follow oral hygiene instructions delivered by an iPad rather than face-to-face with a healthcare professional.

Leena Palomo, DMD, MSD, is an associate professor in the Department of Periodontics and was the creator and leader of the project.

"In healthcare, we are not only preparing for an influx of elderly patients and a growing global middle class wanting to improve quality of life, but also trying to keep a lid on the skyrocketing costs of care delivery," Palomo said. "The challenge is how we can help more people who need it and help cut the already-high cost of care delivery."

The study's findings support an existing new pathway of automated self-care communication to large numbers of people who need it. One hygienist can only meet with one patient at a time to deliver follow-up and care instructions. But on a mobile device, multiple patients can receive that same information at the same time and can request more guidance, have instructions repeated or learn more — all while reducing information delivery costs.

For the study, the researchers divided participants into two groups of 30: those older or younger than 50 years of age.

Not surprisingly, the younger group overwhelmingly preferred the tablet delivery method. Perhaps a little more surprisingly, only about half of the older group preferred hearing follow-up care instructions face-to-face. The other half felt open to computer-assisted instructions.

In other words, this group not only didn't mind using the technology, but also felt comfortable with it. Win-win.

Palomo said the study results could have a significant impact on the future of dentistry, as the number of Americans age 65 or older is estimated to reach 71 million by 2029, up from 41 million in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Dentists who are looking for innovative and cost-effective ways to serve this growing population should be interested in the results of this study.

Using a tablet or other electronic device for providing self-care instructions shows great potential in other areas of medicine as well, Palomo added. In fact, the rise in the number of physicians and health practitioners who deliver healthcare, including prescriptions, over the internet in recent years shows that many consumers are open to and comfortable with the idea of receiving at least a portion of their healthcare services electronically.

Follow-up studies are currently underway. The research team included members of the periodontics and community dentistry departments of the dental school as well as the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.