Adolescents Using the Internet for General and Sexual Health Information: An Evidence Review

Friday, 28 July 2017: 1:50 PM

Jean M. O'Neil, DNP
School of Nursing, California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Problem:While adolescent pregnancy numbers may be decreasing, there are millions of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases that are diagnosed each year in the young adult population. Adolescents often express feelings of invincibility and egocentric behavior (Wickman, M. et al., 2008). This, combined with peer pressure and misinformation, can lead to high risk behaviors that can compromise their health. While most providers routinely address general health concerns, some are not as comfortable speaking with the adolescent about their issues regarding sexual health, family planning needs or sexual orientation. Also, access to healthcare can be a problem for this population because adolescents often have to rely on adults to get them to clinics and hospitals. Therefore, the adolescent worries about the lack of confidentiality regarding the information they share with the provider. Adolescents have been known to access health education via the Internet (Alison, S. et al., 2012) Recently, more teens are expressing their need to access healthcare information in this way. This may be in part due to easy access of information, as well as a more private way to explore sites regarding confusion related to their sexuality. There is an abundance of general and sexual health information online (Whiteley, L., 2012). However, there are concerns by both the medical community, as well as the adolescents themselves, as to whether these sites are presenting accurate and reliable health information (Jones, R. et al., 2011)

Objective:An integrative literature and evidence based informational review was conducted regarding the following factors: the ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation of these adolescents, the type of health information they are seeking, how these teens are using this information, the reliability of these health education sites and how the healthcare provider is incorporating this information into their practice.

Method:A comprehensive search strategy was used to identify English language evidence published between 2010-2016 via PubMed, CINAHL, Science Direct, PsychNet and Cochrane Library. A total of 3615 hits yielded 23 articles that met criteria in addition to 5 contextual articles; therefore 28 articles were included for the final review.

Results:Results indicate that there are a growing number of adolescents that are getting their health information from the Internet. However, many of them have expressed that they weren’t sure if the information was appropriate, accurate or useful. Adolescents were confused by some of the sexual health information they found and expressed interest in speaking with family, friends, teachers or a trusted health provider but were concerned about the possible breech in confidentiality. The community of LGBTQ and transgender teens were also identified as users of the Internet for health information especially, if they were still hesitant about talking about their sexual orientation with their healthcare providers.

Implications: The medical community needs to be aware of what types of online health and sexual health education are available for adolescents. Providers can use this knowledge to their advantage by reviewing these sites and recommending those they feel are appropriate. These sites could work to serve as an adjunct to the adolescent visit and open up avenues for conversation on general, and especially on sexual health topics, between the provider and the patient.