To improve understanding about how high school students use electronic tools to obtain health information and how this information affects their behavior.
Using a cross-sectional design, we administered an anonymous survey to high school students in grades 9 through 12 at a single private Catholic high school, inquiring about their use of electronic tools to obtain health information, topics of interest, sources used to obtain information, and modifications in their behavior based on that information. Descriptive statistics and multivariate analysis of variance were used to compare trends across grade levels.
Of 705 students enrolled, 24.7% were either absent or chose not to participate in the survey. Of the remaining 531 students, 497 completed the surveys, for a response rate of 70.5% (497 of 705) and a participation rate of 93.6% (497 of 531). All students were comfortable using the Internet, and >90% used it at home and in school. Access to broadband applications averaged 95% at home and 80% at school. A significant proportion (0.66; p < 0.0001) of students reported that they trusted the information found online, and 22% (not significant) modified their behavior on the basis of the information they found. Forty-two percent searched for general health information, and 43% investigated specific medical conditions or disease states. Topics related to skin were researched significantly more than nutrition, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases. Although a significant number of students (p < 0.05) reported conducting e-mail conversations related to health topics with their teachers, <5% had e-mail communications with physicians.
These data indicate that most high school students used the Internet and broadband applications at school and at home as resources for health care information. A significant number of students trusted the online information, and at nearly one-quarter subsequently modified their behavior. Students conducted e-mail conversations with teachers about health-related topics, but few students used this tool to communicate with their physicians. This information raises questions about design and implementation of strategies to provide adolescents access to appropriate health care information, including that provided by physicians.
Ettel III, George; Nathanson, Ian; Ettel, Donna; Wilson, Christine; Meola, Paul, The Permanente Journal, 12(1)