Tapping into social media to improve teen health

UCLA Health article
With the average teen spending approximately nine hours a week on social networking sites, the UCLA School of Public Health has partnered with Health Net of California to develop a health literacy training intervention using social media to encourage adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 to utilize their health care more effectively.
The two-year project, funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, will use a randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of two different interventions — a Web-based social media intervention and a "usual care" intervention — to improve preventive care and decrease emergency room visits among adolescents.
"Over 90 percent of teens today use social networking sites, not just to interact with their peers but also to get information about issues that are important to them," said Michael Prelip, a professor of community health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health and one of the principal investigators of the project. "This intervention will provide important clues about the effectiveness of social media in influencing adolescents' understanding of their health care rights, responsibilities and benefits so that they can become good health care consumers."
Health Net initially approached UCLA in 2007 to partner on the grant opportunity, which was successfully awarded two years later.
"While 88 percent of teens have health insurance, they may have little experience or skill using the current health care system effectively," said the project's principal investigator, Deborah Glik, a UCLA professor of community health sciences.
"One of our chief goals is establishing best practices for encouraging teens to use their insurance and the health care system so they can become knowledgeable health care consumers as they transition into adulthood," said Nancy Wongvipat Kalev, Health Net's director of health education and cultural and linguistic services and one of the study's collaborators. "Health Net and the UCLA School of Public Health have a shared goal of ensuring that everyone makes effective use of his or her doctor's services and that we both understand what motivates young people to access care."
In addition to Kalev, who holds a master's degree in public health, three other Health Net study collaborators are graduates of the UCLA School of Public Health: Elaine Robinson-Frank, R.N., M.P.H., director of quality improvement; Sharon Nessim, Dr.P.H., manager of quality improvement research and analysis; and Hoa Su, M.P.H., manager of health education. 
The two-wave longitudinal repeated measures study will engage 8,000 Medicaid (Medi-Cal) and Healthy Families beneficiaries whose health plan is Health Net of California. Health Net provides health benefits to more than 150,000 adolescents through its Medicaid, Healthy Families, Healthy Kids and Access to Infants and Mothers insurance plans.
The study will assess the impact of various traditional and newer social media interventions on utilization patterns, health literacy, preventive health care interactions with primary care providers, adoption of preventive heath practices, health information-seeking, and attitudes toward health care.
Health Net of California, a subsidiary of Health Net Inc., is one of the largest health plans in the state. Together with Health Net Life Insurance Company, it serves more than 2.2 million members statewide and contracts with more than 56,000 physicians, 300-plus hospitals and nearly 5,000 pharmacies, giving its members greater choice and more convenient access to care. Its commercial HMO and POS, Medicare, and Medicaid lines of business have received "excellent" accreditation status from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. For more information about Health Net, visit its website at www.healthnet.com.
The UCLA School of Public Health is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research; training future leaders and health professionals; translating research into policy and practice; and serving local, national and international communities. For more information, visit www.ph.ucla.edu.
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Sarah Anderson

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