Friends, the mainstream media and the internet, all potentially unreliable sources, continue to be the way America’s young adults find their health information. Research has found that while they trust health professionals and health educators, they often do not turn to them for information, especially when it comes to their sexual health.
In an attempt to provide a reliable and trustworthy source for reproductive health information for teenagers, one physician-researcher at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island has launched the website Ask A Doc RI.
“My thought was to bring the information to where the teenagers are, which is on the internet,” says Vinita Goyal, MD, MPH, of Women & Infants’ Center for Women’s Primary Care. “Ask A Doc RI contains a variety of information on contraception and local clinical resources where youth can seek health care.”
In addition, the website, which includes links to Healthy Kids Rhode Island and Women & Infants, fields anonymous questions on sexual health from teenagers. The questions are answered by one of five participating Women & Infants physicians, and the answers are posted online within 72 hours.
“Our outreach will target teenagers living in Rhode Island communities with high teen pregnancy rates – Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket – to get this important information to them,” Dr. Goyal explains, noting that information will be available in community health centers and through Healthy Kids Rhode Island coalition members working with underserved youth.
Ask A Doc RI will also serve as a research project for Dr. Goyal, who is Women & Infants’ current Women’s Reproductive Health Research scholar, a program sponsored by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to protect research time for young doctors. There are limited studies specifically addressing the effectiveness of contraceptive education through the internet in promoting healthy behaviors. Confidential surveys will be given to teenagers asking questions on the site and the information will be collected as part of the research.
“Success of the project will be measured by the number of contraceptive queries obtained through the website,” Dr. Goyal notes. “While it will be difficult to ascertain if contraceptive behavior is improved, it is expected that if the website serves as a useful educational tool for young women in Rhode Island, the number of queries posted will increase over time.”
In addition to fielding questions on Ask A Doc RI, there are sections on the website containing general information on all available contraceptive options and frequently asked questions about contraception, as well as contact information on local health centers for teens interested in making an appointment or meeting face to face with a provider.
Unique to Ask A Doc RI will be a section with current contraceptive issues brought up by local and national media. Complete information will be supplied so teenagers can make the best decision for their sexual health.
“Many young women discontinue contraception over concerns about safety. Incomplete news reports about intrauterine devices, litigious commercials regarding the association of blood clots and oral contraceptive pill use, and other similar events have resulted in young women discontinuing effective methods of contraception without seeking alternative methods to prevent unplanned pregnancy,” Dr. Goyal says.
Ask A Doc is sponsored by a grant from the Lalor Foundation, an organization that seeks to educate young women about human reproduction in order to broaden and enhance their options in life.
The new website can be found at www.askadocri.com.
About Women & Infants Hospital
Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation’s leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns and a U.S.News Best Hospital in Gynecology. The primary teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women’s medicine, Women & Infants is the seventh largest obstetrical service in the country with more than 8,500 deliveries per year. In 2009, Women & Infants opened the country’s largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.
New England’s premier hospital for women and newborns, Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. It is home to the nation’s only mother-baby perinatal psychiatric partial hospital, as well as the nation’s only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.
Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Center of Excellence from the American College of Radiography; a Center for In Vitro Maturation Excellence by SAGE In Vitro Fertilization; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health; and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group.