US Pharm. 2014;39(5):35-37.
The adolescent population represents a
healthcare consumer group that is easily excited by the opportunity to
use any type of technological intervention to obtain health-related
information.1 Often, adolescents have been the first to adopt
technology applications such as the Internet, Facebook, e-mail, instant
messaging, chat, search engines, and e-health websites. Up to 67% of
adolescents are expected to use e-resources to seek specific information
on medical conditions and 56% on sexual health matters.2
Studies show that adolescents would like
to discuss concerns with health professionals, but they often do not
engage with their healthcare providers owing to issues similar to those
facing other healthcare consumers: privacy, access, lack of
understanding of the need to take care of one’s health, and sensitivity
regarding the topic discussed. A study of adolescent boys and girls in
the United States, for example, found that the majority (70.9%) reported
at least one of eight potential health risks, ranging from social
interactions to sexual health, but most (63%) had not spoken to their
doctor about any of these.3 With access to more health
information than ever before, there is a unique opportunity to engage
this population in healthcare and health promotion, empowering them to
embrace healthy living habits via e-health mechanisms in order to yield
better outcomes in their overall wellness.
Pharmacy professional associations, such as the American
Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), encourage pharmacists to
use social media in a professional manner that can complement and
enhance their relationships with patients, caregivers, other members of
the healthcare team, and the public.4 Pharmacy professionals can use social media resources to develop strategies to meet their outreach goals.4
This article will focus on the types of e-health information and media
adolescents may be responsive to, the components of effective technology
use, and dealing with privacy concerns.
Information and Media
Adolescents will most likely turn to websites and smartphone apps for their health information.2 This opens the door to opportunities for healthcare providers to engage with this population subset.5,6
General health education topics, including smoking, alcohol use,
exercise, nutrition, weight control, body image, sexual health, proper
use of protective gear when engaging in sports (e.g., helmet for
skateboarding), and others are topics of interest to adolescents.
Pharmacists might also inform and educate teen patients on serious
chronic disease states that may be affecting them, such as asthma or
Researchers have explored the usefulness of e-health technology for reaching adolescents, particu
larly in relation to smoking. A study by Woodruff et al provided initial data regarding the acceptability and impact of an Internet-based chat room for rural teen smokers.7 Significant changes were seen in quitting, amount smoked, and intentions to quit.7
Skinner et al developed an early example of a comprehensive e-health
website for youths based on the concept of a virtual island called
CyberIsle, which included an online teen clinic and behavior-change
interventions such as smoking prevention and cessation.2,8,9
Healthcare providers, including
pharmacists, can create chat rooms, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, or
blogs based on disease states or topics such as sexually transmitted
diseases, smoking, obesity, and the like. Question and answer sessions
can be created and overseen by a healthcare professional who would
review, post, and offer guidance. Several pharmacy chains, such as Rite
Aid and Walgreens, offer online live chat with a pharmacist through
Health professionals can also support
adolescents by recommending certain websites to visit for specific
health issues; giving advice about topic search strategies; helping to
evaluate the quality of health information that might be discovered on
an Internet search; providing guidance on information found; and
indicating the next steps to take if warranted. In addition to popular
health websites for the general population, such as the Mayo Clinic’s
website, there are teen-focused health information websites (see
) that patients might be referred to as well.
Effective Technology Use
How best can healthcare professionals use
e-health technology to effectively support the health and wellness of
the adolescent patient population? The healthcare setting needs to be
user-friendly in terms of accepting, translating, and transmitting
e-health technology.4 The various applications also need to be coupled with a secure and
private way to access and reach out for health
information. A secure website can provide encrypted e-mail to protect
While it is important that the technology
used be highly interactive, it must also be balanced, personal,
confidential, and high quality, offering direction and guidance. The
adolescent patient population likes to investigate and actually discover
sources where their desired information can be easily retrieved.2
Because of this, opportunities like personal health records or help
lines such as live chat or e-mail chat offered by a healthcare provider
or entity could streamline access to data while also improving
compliance regarding a myriad of health issues, including improved
e-health technology can enhance the
interaction and personal connection of adolescents with their health
practitioners. Enabling adolescents’ access to their data or information
will be invaluable and supportive with respect to any health concerns
experienced by these patients; therefore, the technology offered in a
healthcare setting should be accessible 24/7, providing ease of use and
Pharmacy professionals may also use
social media as a means to provide timely and accurate drug information,
as well as to refute inaccurate or outdated information, according to
the ASHP guidelines.4
Using the various Internet technologies
could augment the traditional venues for health information when either
the patient or the healthcare provider might not be available for
face-to-face communication. Many adolescents prefer using information
technology, as this may involve less emotional angst or less
embarrassment.2 Hence, a sensitive or unapproachable topic could be handled more readily via technology.
All e-health activities that include
patient-identifiable information must include strict privacy and
security measures. The ASHP statement cautions that pharmacy
professionals should continue to adhere to all laws, regulations,
standards, and other mandates intended to protect patient privacy and
confidentiality when using social media.4 Privacy settings
that provide the greatest degree of protection for personal information
should be used. Since HIPAA rules apply, patient-specific questions
should not be answered publicly. Rather, social media should be used to
provide general information that will benefit many patients.10
Finally, healthcare professionals need to
uncover new and expanding ways to touch the adolescent population and
to assist in integrating e-health resources into their clinical practice
and various community outreach programs. The current technologies on
the market, such as electronic health records or personal health
records, are enabled to support various social media outlets and could
create synergy of information for support of patient health. Pharmacists
can engage with adolescents who have personal health records to perform
medication reconciliation, gauge adherence to prescribed regimens, and
provide real-time drug information, including potential side effects as
well as drug-drug interactions. Healthcare providers who understand the
populations they care for and the ways with which to engage them in
their own healthcare can play a major role in better serving the needs
of adolescents via e-health.
1. Whittemore R, Jaser SJ, Faulkner MS,
et al. Type 1 diabetes eHealth psychoeducation: youth recruitment,
participation, and satisfaction. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15:e15.
2. Skinner H, Biscope S, Poland B,
Goldberg E. How adolescents use technology for health information:
implications for health professionals from focus group studies. J Med Internet Res. 2003;5:e32.
3. Klein JD, Wilson KM. Delivering quality care: adolescents’ discussion of health risks with their providers. J Adolesc. Health. 2002;30:190-195.
4. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. ASHP statement on use of social media by pharmacy professionals. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 2012; 69:2095-2097.
5. Valaitis, RK. Computers and the Internet: tools for youth empowerment. J Med Internet Res. 2005;7:e51.
6. Vyas AN, Landry M, Schnider, et al.
Public health interventions: reaching Latino adolescents via short
message service and social media. J Med Internet Res. 2012;14:e99.
7. Woodruff SI, Edwards CC, Conway TL, Elliott SP. Pilot test of an Internet virtual world chat room for rural teen smokers. J Adolesc Health. 2001:29:239-243.
8. Skinner H, Morrison M, Bercovitz K, et al. Using the Internet to engage youth in health promotion. Promot Educ. 1997;4:23-25.
9. Skinner HA, Maley O, Smith L, et al.
New frontiers: using the Internet to engage teens in substance abuse
prevention and treatment. In: Monti PM, Colby SM, O’Leary TA, eds. Adolescents, Alcohol, and Substance Abuse: Reaching Teens through Brief Interventions. New York: Guilford Press; 2004:297-318.
10. O'Hara B, Fox BI, Donahue B. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). Social media in pharmacy: heeding its call, leveraging its power. 2013;53:561-564.
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