Gadget helps teens communicate with doctors

August 3, 2008 6:27:02 AM PDT
Adults know communicating with teens can be a challenge. In this electronic age, they prefer to let their fingers do the talking, with e-mail and text messages.

Doctors at one hospital have turned their waiting rooms to chat rooms, to get kids to open up.

When 16-year-old kenzie davis goes to the doctor, there aren't any clipboard with questionnaires waiting for her.

This tech-oriented teen goes right for a touch-screen computer.

It privately asks some of the questions her doctor normally asks during an exam.

Davis says, " I don't want my parents to hear some of those things, so in order not to hurt their feelings, or try to upset them or anything, it's easier to just answer truthfully without worrying about their reactions to it."

The Health E-Touch pad was developed by doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.

They know getting kids and teens involved in their own health care sometimes means asking about touchy subjects.

Dr. Kelley Kelleher, one of the developers, says, "That might be drug use, sexual behavior, it might be suicidal thoughts. Those are things that are uncomfortable to talk about."

But the kids do open up on computers.

In fact, a recent study showed adolescents are not only more honest with Health E-touch, doctors are more likely to pick up on problems that might have gone unnoticed.

Dr. Kelleher says, "For the first several hundred children who reported suicidal thoughts, we were able to have almost all of them evaluated right on the spot. And that is unheard of in most practices."

The computers also adjust to each answer.

For example, if a child admits drug use, the computer will ask more in-depth questions.

If drugs AREN'T a problem, the computer moves on.

Dr. Kelleher says, "The teenagers that used the tablets found them easy to use, thought it made the waiting room time more exciting for them, they felt more involved in the visit."

And when a patients feel more involved - regardless of their age - they're more likely to stay on-top of their medical care.