Waiting Room Gadget

  by  |  July 23rd, 2008  |  Published in All, Health, Technology

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As any parent knows, teens love texting. Now one doctor hopes to turn that habit into improved medical care. As this ScienCentral video explains, a new waiting room gadget may be the way to get reluctant teens to communicate with their doctors.

[If you cannot see the You Tube video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]

Interviewee: Interviewee: Kelly Kelleher, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Length: 1 min 35 sec
Produced by Chris Bergendorff
Edited by Chris Bergendorff
Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage courtesy
Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Teen Texting Tablet

For teenagers, waiting to see the doctor means dreading questions from another privacy-invading adult. But avoiding discussions about risky behaviors with doctors, like drug use, depression, and sexual activity, can end up hurting teens’ health.

“We know that many of the problems that children and adolescents face are not easily detected in a very brief primary care visit that might only be once a year.”

Enter pediatrician Kelly Kelleher and his “Health E-Touch system.” Developed at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, the E-Touch gives waiting room patients the ability to answer personal and medical questions on a computer screen, a familiar experience for most teens. Unlike the usual paper questionnaires and forms one must fill out at the doctor’s office, the E-Touch tailors its questions to the patient as they go along. So a teenage patient that answers “yes” to a question about whether they often feel depressed on the E-Touch is then asked more specific questions about their depression. All of this detailed personal information collected on the E-Touch is then sent directly to their doctor, who can identify high-risk behaviors and evaluate the patient’s problems, without an awkward question and answer period first.

Kelleher states that, “Socially undesirable behaviors like drug-use or high-risk sexual activity or even crimes are more likely to be reported when we don’t have to face people directly and say those words.” By simply putting a computerized intermediary between teenagers and their doctors, Kelleher found that the adolescent patients were far more likely to report serious problems. Why? As he says, “They’re not afraid to put their hands on a computer to try new things, and we actually had many teens ask us questions about what else could the tablets do.”

But it’s not just their level of comfort with the technology that has adolescent patients using the E-Touch. Kelleher believes there’s another, more emotional reason why teens prefer his computerized tablet to a face to face with their own doctor. Kelleher claims that it “is particularly hard for those teens who might have a long-standing relationship with their pediatrician and don’t want to hurt their feelings or upset them talking about behaviors that they know they shouldn’t be engaging in.”

But while the Health E-Touch System might be helping teens confront their problems, is it really helping their doctors?

As he wrote in the journal Pediatrics, Kelleher found that doctors who received information about their patients before seeing them were sixteen percent more likely to identify a serious problem in their adolescent patient, and over two times more likely to actively address those concerns than doctors who had received the information a few days later. Kelleher sees nothing surprising in these findings. “Physicians, when they’re given good information, information that’s hard to get from children in a normal visit, are very much more willing to start to work with those teens in beginning to address those behaviors,” he says.

Kelleher believes that the E-Touch is just the beginning of a new wave of computerized interaction between patients and their doctors. He wants to get teens even more electronically involved in their medical care, using cell phones and text messaging to remind them to not drink alcohol, or to take their medications.

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