Go Online to Reach Urban Pediatric Population

Larry Hand

June 10, 2013

Digital technologies, including email and smartphones, offer new opportunities for medical practitioners to communicate with a traditionally hard-to-reach population, according to an article published online June 10 in Pediatrics.

Tori L. DeMartini, MD, from the Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Ohio, and colleagues analyzed the results of a self-administered survey of caregivers bringing children to 2 urban pediatric primary care centers in Cincinnati during the spring of 2012.

The 16-question, paper-based survey, composed on an eighth-grade reading level, focused on caregivers' access to the Internet and smartphone technologies, usage patterns for email and social media, and willingness to receive medical information online. The researchers also assigned a "digital technology" score of 0 to 4 to survey respondents, depending on how many technologies caregivers accessed, including home Internet, smartphone, email, and social media.

A total of 257 caregivers, with a median age of 28 years, completed the survey, with participants being 52% men, 73% black, 19% white, and 92% publicly insured. The median patient age was 2.9 years (interquartile range, 0.8 - 7.4), with more than half living in a census-defined poverty area.

Almost all respondents (97%) scored 1 or higher on the digital technology scale, with 80% reporting home Internet access, 71% reporting smartphone access, 91% having email, and 78% having Facebook accounts. Only 27% had Twitter accounts. Almost half (49%) scored 4 on the digital technology scale.

Although 15% of respondents reported they search the Internet daily for general medical information and 6% reported they search for hospital-specific information online, 71% reported that they agreed or strongly agreed that they would like to receive health information digitally if the information were approved by their children's medical provider.

The highest areas of interest in such information by caregivers were common infections (77%), immunization schedules (73%), age-appropriate activities (73%), healthy eating tips (71%), infant child care (67%), well-child visits (65%), and links to community resources (62%).

Study limitations include the inability to link the anonymous survey responses to patient records and the possibility that results are not generalizable to a wide population base. In addition, the researchers write, any information sent out on social sites should be population-based, rather than individualized, because the sites are not secure.

However, this population's "relative hyperconnectivity" points to digital technology as a way to reach an underserved population that can be hard to reach because families often change addresses, and telephone numbers are often disconnected or temporarily out of service.

The researchers conclude, "This highly prevalent use of digital technology coupled with a strong caregiver interest in receiving medical information digitally creates an opportunity to develop innovative techniques for communicating with a traditionally hard-to-reach population."

This research was supported by a National Research Service Award grant and by the Bureau of Health Professions, Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. Published online June 10, 2013.

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