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 mission is to provide hope, care and cures to help every child live the healthiest and most fulfilling life possible. Together, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Research Institute and Foundation deliver superior patient care, identify new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients.

Ranked as one of the top children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – the largest region of any children’s hospital in the country. As one of the nation’s top five pediatric research centers, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is internationally recognized for its work in neurosciences, immunology, cancer, infectious disease, injury prevention and much more. Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation works with the Seattle Children’s Guild Association, the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care and research. Join Seattle Children’s bold initiative – It Starts With Yes: The Campaign for Seattle Children’s – to transform children’s health for generations to come.

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