Study Shows Asking Adolescents Sensitive Health Questions by Computer Results in Honest Answers, Better Care

December 1, 2009

Parents of teens know just how difficult it is to get them to talk about their personal lives, let alone their health. With only 20 percent of children with mental health problems in the United States being properly identified and treated, it is imperative that a solution be found. Doctors and researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are one step closer by finding a new way to get teens to open up about their health and what’s really on their mind, bringing up issues that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

In a study recently published in the journal, Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, results showed that a device – a hand-held wireless web tablet – was able to get teens to answer sensitive questions honestly while in the waiting room during a primary care visit.

The study used the Health eTouch tablet to ask adolescent patients questions about sensitive topics including substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts. Based on the patient’s response, their doctor could best advise the patient on follow-up care or specialist appointments.

Kelly Kelleher, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author and director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said that Health eTouch is a process that allows physicians to integrate health assessments into the primary care setting. It utilizes and maximizes waiting room time, presenting results to the doctor right away and helping them to make quick, informed decisions about the patient’s care.

“Physicians are often rushed during daily clinic appointments and Health eTouch helps to enhance communications between patients and their doctors,” said Kelleher, also vice president for health services research at Nationwide Children’s and a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Early recognition of medical and behavioral issues is key for long-term effectiveness of care.”

“In our study, teens accepted Health eTouch as a way to answer sensitive questions honestly,” said the study’s lead author, Deena Chisolm, PhD, principal investigator in the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children’s and a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Youth positive for behavioral health problems such as substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts were likely to get follow-up care within six months following the visit.” 

Data from the study showed patients that were screened had a significantly higher probability of both medical and behavioral follow-up care in 180 days post-screening for the indicated risks. The study included nearly 1,000 patients between the ages of 11-20 with more than three quarters of that population under the age of 16.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

About Nationwide Children's Hospital

Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report’s 2019-20 list of “Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric health care systems providing wellness, preventive, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents, as well as adult patients with congenital disease. Nationwide Children’s has a staff of more than 13,000 providing state-of-the-art pediatric care during more than 1.5 million patient visits annually. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s physicians train the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded freestanding pediatric research facilities. More information is available at