School of Population Health

Consumer E-health

As consumers we use advanced information systems every day – from social media like Facebook and Twitter, to online shopping and banking. Healthcare is only now turning to these technologies as ways of engaging with consumers in all aspects of their care. We have been working for several years now to understand how consumer technologies should be designed, and what their harms and benefits might be. With support from the HCF Foundation we developed an innovative E-Health research platform Healthy.me which has allowed us to work with many different clinical groups to study how web-based and mobile applications can affect consumers can more actively engage in the management of their own health.

Healthy.me: The internet is no longer used just for information about diseases or treatments. For more than a decade, Web 2.0 has been letting individuals connect to others previously unknown to them (on Twitter for example) or with their existing social networks (Facebook). Social media offer intriguing possibilities for managing health conditions – and indeed, many health-related applications have been developed. But how well do they work? Not enough research has been done to say anything with certainty. Our research is intended to fill that gap.

We have developed an innovative e-health research platform Healthy.me which allows us to explore ways to enable patients and consumers manage their own health and also to examine the choices they make, the information they seek. 

Past trials using Healthy.me:

Promoting uptake of preventative healthcare actions

Working with the UNSW University Health Service, we undertook a large randomised controlled trial of Healthy.me linking it to the health services clinic on campus over the 2010 winter season. A cohort of 855 students took part, half assigned to Healthy.me and the remainder to normal care. Our focus was to assess impact on health behaviours and on decisions to undertake preventative care actions. We measured influenza vaccination rates, self-reported symptoms and rate of visits to the clinic in both populations. We demonstrated a statistically significant difference in the two populations. Healthy.me users were more likely to have an influenza vaccination (p = .008) and to visit the campus clinic (p =.003) demonstrating the impact of this class of system on changing health behaviours.

Enhancing the physical and emotional wellbeing at UNSW

Working with the UNSW Counselling and Psychological Services, UNSW Health Service, and the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression (CRUfAD), we established an online UNSW community which aimed to enhance participants’ physical and mental wellbeing. More than 700 participants from UNSW have been recruited, with many using online social networking mechanisms on Healthy.me (such as forum, messaging, diary, end health polls) to learn and compare their health with others, and seek advice from clinicians and fellow participants. The results suggest that young adults at UNSW using Healthy.me are more likely to seek help for emotional concerns than young people in the general community. In addition, preliminary findings suggest that online social interactions and “social norms” affect participants’ health service utilisation and their perceived health status.

Supporting breast cancer survivors after treatment

Working with Cancer Services at South Western Sydney Local Health Network, a feasibility study using Healthy.me was conducted with 50 survivors of early stage breast cancer to support their post-treatment journey. Led by Professor Geoff Delaney and a team of oncologists and nurses, patients using the Healthy.me platform learnt about their diagnosis, medications, follow-up appointments, and ways of managing their symptoms to resume a normal life. Preliminary results illustrate that breast cancer survivors find Healthy.me useful and would recommend it to fellow survivors to support their post-treatment survivorship needs.

Supporting patients undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment

Working with clinical partners at IVF Australia, we completed a usability trial, supporting 14 women over the 8 weeks needed to complete one in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle, from Oct 2009 to Jan 2010. Participants were very positive about the system and accessed the site to update their personal health record or access information about the next steps of their treatment cycle.


 

Two other trials with Healthy.me are currently active:

Encouraging self-management among people with asthma:  Working with the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity at UNSW, we’ve launched a randomised controlled trial examining how well our personally-controlled health management system Healthy.me works for patients managing their own asthma. People living with asthma from across Australia are invited to use the web-based Healthy.me for 12 months to manage their condition. We hypothesise that using Healthy.me will encourage them to act early so asthmatic episodes don’t become exacerbated.

This trial will test specifically whether using the system is associated with

  • significant improvement in asthma control
  • increased compliance with the asthma cycle of care
  • less unplanned use of health services
  • reduced frequency of exacerbations. 

Participants are being recruited for the trial now. The trial will continue into 2014.

Boosting STI screening among young people:  Together with the Kirby Institute and the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW, the Centre for Research Excellence in e-Health has launched a randomised controlled trial to examine the efficacy of Healthy.me on the uptake of sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening among young people.  Young people aged 18–29 are invited to use the web-based Healthy.me for six months to engage with peers, health services and health professionals to seek assistance for their sexual health concerns.

The trial will test specifically whether using the system is associated with

  • increased uptake of STI screening
  • increased help-seeking behaviours for sexual health concerns
  • a positive change in the perceptions, attitudes, intentions or readiness towards seeking screening for STIs.

Participants for the study are being recruited now. The trial is due for completion at the end of 2013.

We’re now extending the reach of Healthy.me onto mobile phones and portable electronic devices. The Healthy.me app will allow us to investigate how health-related social media and online networks affect patients and consumers. We’re also looking at ways to change the behaviour of the online crowd around us so people using ICT can make healthier choices and live healthier lives.

Project Members
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Professor Enrico Coiera
Visiting Professor
image - 1335858253 Annie Lau
Dr Annie Lau
Visiting Senior Lecturer
image - Unsw Med 68 Joel Rhee
Dr Joel Rhee
Adjunct Associate Professor