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Web-based Health Information Can Improve Health of Children

September 05, 2006

Access to high quality, customized, health information via a Web site can improve the health of children, according to a study by researchers at Seattle Children’s Hospital that was published in the September issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Access to high quality, customized, health information via a website can improve the health of children, according to a study by researchers at Seattle Children’s Hospital that was published in the September issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a randomized, controlled trial, parents of children under age 11 were given access to tailored, Web-based, information on health and safety topics in advance of a regularly scheduled well-child check up.

Parents then used that information to initiate conversations with their child’s physician about various health topics such as bike helmet and car seat use, smoking cessation, hot water heater temperature, television viewing and ADHD screening.

Parents given access to the website were more likely to discuss topics with their provider and more likely to implement important prevention practices.

The study is the first to explore the use of a tailored website to motivate parents and providers to discuss preventive health topics during a well-child check up and to evaluate whether the information exchanged resulted in increased parental and physician adoption of preventive measures.

For the first time we know that accurate, online health information can actually make children healthier and safer.
~ Dr. Dimitri Christakis 

“The significance of the research is that for the first time we know that accurate, online health information can actually make children healthier and safer,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Christakis was the study’s lead researcher and is director of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington.

“We found that parents who accessed the website were more likely to ask their child’s doctor for information about certain topics and more likely to adopt behaviors that have been proven to keep children healthy and safe.”

“Our study also showed that physicians who knew the topics parents were interested in before the visits, were more likely to discuss them during the visit and offer proven prevention strategies,” said Christakis.

“Although the Internet is often cited as a potential danger to children, this is an example of how it can improve the quality of health care and help doctors and patients communicate with each other better.”

The 13 prevention areas targeted in the study included:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Smoke detector use and testing
  • Car seat use and installation
  • Hot water heater temperature
  • Tuberculosis screening
  • Head Start pre-school program enrollment
  • Developmental and behavioral screening
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder screening
  • Bicycle helmet use
  • TV viewing patterns
  • Safe firearm storage
  • Flu vaccinations
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

The study was conducted by enrolling 887 children through four clinics in the University of Washington Physician Network (UWPN).

Eligible children were under 11 years old, had parents who spoke English, were patients at a participating clinic, and had a well-child visit scheduled during the study period, October 2003 to June 2005.

Only one child from each family, chosen at random, was invited to participate. Families were then contacted by phone to obtain consent and administer a baseline questionnaire that measured demographic characteristics of the family and specific health and behavioral risk factors, such as parental smoking and gun ownership.

The baseline survey found more than 80% of the households had Web access.

The researchers then created a password protected, Web-based intervention, called MyHealthyChild. When parents logged on to the MyHealthychild site, they were presented with a list of topics, tailored on the basis of their child’s age and data retrieved from the baseline questionnaire.

For example, only parents who identified themselves as smokers on the baseline questionnaire were given an option to learn about smoking cessation programs.

On the provider side, physicians were notified through the electronic patient chart of the health and safety topics accessed by the parents. Providers were also given access to evidence-based, effective prevention strategies and tips that they could then share with parents.

Researchers were:

  • Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, director, Child Health Institute, University of Washington, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center
  • Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD, Child Health Institute, University of Washington
  • Frederick P. Rivara, MD, MPH, Child Health Institute, University of Washington, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center
  • Beth Ebel, MD, MPH, MSc, Child Health Institute, University of Washington, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center

The research was funded by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

About Seattle Children's Hospital

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Children’s has been delivering superior patient care and advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org.

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