Tech can help urban pediatric clinics better connect with caregivers

Urban pediatric clinics could better communicate with hard-to-reach populations through use of digital technologies, including email and smartphones, according to a study from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, surveyed caregivers bringing children to two urban pediatric primary care centers in Cincinnati during the spring of 2012. It asked about their access to digital technology and their interest in receiving health information in such a manner.

In all, 257 caregivers, with a median age of 28, were polled. Seventy-three percent were black and 19 percent white. The median age of their children was 2.9 years. Ninety-two percent were publicly insured, and more than half lived in a census-defined poverty area, reports Medscape Medical News.

According to the study's authors, such caregivers often are hard to reach because they move frequently, or their telephones are disconnected or temporarily out of service.

Respondents were given a score between 0 and 4 representing their daily access to the following technologies: home Internet, smartphone, email, and social media. Ninety-seven percent scored at least 1, and nearly half (49 percent) used all four technologies. Eighty percent reported having home Internet access, while 71 percent said they had smartphone access, 91 percent had email and 78 percent were on Facebook. Only 27 percent of those surveyed used Twitter.

More than 70 percent of caregivers said they would use healthcare information sent digitally from their healthcare provider. They reported interest in information about common infections (77 percent); immunization schedules (73 percent); age-appropriate activities (73 percent); healthy eating tips (71 percent); infant child care (67 percent); well-child visits (65 percent); and links to community resources (62 percent).

A recent report from a coalition of advocacy organizations--including the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and The National Council of La Raza--warned that health IT, while holding the potential to improve care, also could further marginalize underserved populations.

It noted that cell phones rapidly are becoming the communication method of choice among low-income populations, many of whom work multiple jobs and require more flexibility than a landline. The report's authors applauded services such as Text4baby, which provides text messages about newborn care and is available in Spanish.

Meanwhile, a survey from the University of California San Francisco found that while low-income patients of public health clinics would like to communicate with their doctors online, such "safety-net" facilities don't offer the necessary patient portals or secure messaging systems.

To learn more:
- find the research
- read the Medscape Medical News article