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Technology and Adolescent Health

Helen Figge, PharmD, MBA, CPHIMS, FHIMSS
Six Sigma Black Belt & Sensei
Vice President, Clinical Integrations
Alere Accountable Care Solutions LLC
Waltham, Massachusetts
HIMSS National Liaison, New York State



5/16/2014
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 diabetes.  

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 their websites.  

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 RESOURCES ) 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 health information.  

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 medication adherence.  

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 seamless availability.  

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.  

Privacy Concerns

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

Conclusion

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.

REFERENCES

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.

To comment on this article, contact rdavidson@uspharmacist.com.

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