Seattle Children’s Research Institute Awarded $1.5 Million to Prevent Risky Health Behaviors in Teens

Electronic Health Assessment could help providers better determine adolescents’ health risks


Seattle Children’s Research Institute has been awarded $1.5 million to fund a 4-year study designed to prevent risky health behaviors in teens.

A grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) was awarded to Drs. Cari McCarty and Laura Richardson, adolescent health specialists at Seattle Children’s Hospital and investigators in Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, to fund their research testing the effectiveness of an electronic screening tool for adolescent patients and a new training curriculum to help primary care providers discuss health risk behaviors with teens.

To identify risky health behaviors, McCarty and Richardson have developed an electronic health assessment app. Patients will access the app from the waiting room of their primary care office using iPads before appointments. The app asks questions about health-compromising behaviors including alcohol and drug use, smoking, sexual activity, unhealthy eating and physical activity.

“Research has shown that teens will answer questions about their behavior more honestly through an electronic device than they would in a face to face conversation,” McCarty said. “The app can be completed before the appointment begins, so clinicians have more time to talk with youth about concerns during the visit.”

The app also provides direct, personalized feedback about health risks to adolescents based on their responses. The information was designed to increase patients’ knowledge of their health risks and motivate them to engage in healthier behaviors.

Additionally, McCarty and Richardson will be developing an interactive adolescent-centered training curriculum for primary care providers to improve clinical skills used to reinforce healthy behavior choices and to address risky behaviors in a meaningful way.

“Behavioral consultation is one of the most difficult aspects of adolescent medicine,” McCarty said. “The interventions we are developing are designed to provide clinicians with the tools and expertise they need to empower adolescents to make healthier behavior choices.”

McCarty and Richardson’s study will compare patient outcomes in cases using their app and training curriculum jointly compared to usual care. The research will take place at multiple pediatric practices in the greater Seattle region.

The most common causes of adolescent morbidity and mortality result from participation in health-compromising behaviors, such as alcohol and other drug use, sexual activity without use of protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and unhealthy eating patterns and physical inactivity. Professional practice guidelines recommend screening and counseling adolescents to prevent these behaviors and reduce risk. Despite these recommendations, only 28% to 65% of patients report that they receive recommended screening and even fewer receive preventive counseling.

“The Affordable Care Act has allowed more people to access primary care, but providers do not always have the tools they need to screen teens for risky behaviors,” McCarty said. “We hope that the tools we are developing with PCORI funding will further facilitate prevention and early intervention during primary care visits.”

This award has been approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract to Seattle Children’s.

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s Hospital, Foundation and Research Institute together deliver superior patient care, advance new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s Hospital specializes in meeting the unique physical, emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. Through the collaboration of physicians in nearly 60 pediatric subspecialties, Seattle Children’s Hospital provides inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic, surgical, rehabilitative, behavioral, and emergency and outreach services to families from around the world.

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention, bioethics and much more.

Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association work together to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care, clinical care and research. The foundation receives nearly 80,000 gifts each year, from lemonade stand proceeds to corporate sponsorships. Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association is the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, serving as the umbrella organization for 450 groups of people who turn an activity they love into a fundraiser. Support from the foundation and guild association makes it possible for Seattle Children’s care and research teams to improve the health and well-being of all kids.

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