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Open Access Study protocol

Avatars using computer/smartphone mediated communication and social networking in prevention of sexually transmitted diseases among North-Norwegian youngsters

Elia Gabarron12*, J Artur Serrano12, Rolf Wynn23 and Manuel Armayones4

Author Affiliations

1 NST-Norwegian Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine, University Hospital of North Norway, P.O. Box 35, N-9038, Tromsø, Norway

2 Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

3 Division of Addictions and Specialized Psychiatry, University Hospital of North Norway, Tromsø, Norway

4 PSiNET Research Group, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2012, 12:120  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-120

Published: 30 October 2012

Abstract

Background

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially the Chlamydia trachomatis bacterial infection, a common cause of infertility, are highly prevalent in developed countries, and a worrying problem in North Norway, where the incidence of chlamydia twice the Norwegian average. Seventy percent of reported chlamydia cases are found in people below 25 years of age, and although its spread could be controlled with proper prevention, young people are more aware of the risks of unwanted pregnancy than their risk of acquiring a STD. Information and Communication Technologies, including, the Internet, social media and/or smartphones, should be valued for sexual health promotion for their potential to engage young audiences. And in these media, avatars guarantee anonymity to users when handling sensitive information. The main objective of this project is to achieve that North Norwegian youngsters become more aware of STDs through the use of popular technologies among young people.

Methods

A Virtual Clinic for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (VCSTD) will be developed. The VCSTD will provide early guidance and reliable information sources concerning reproductive health, delivered in a novel and innovative way to the younger population. The VCSTD consists of an “avatar” supported intervention in a serious gaming and e-learning environment, which will bypass direct physical access (in person) to reliable medical information, as well as allowing the youngsters to share that information in social media, and thus helping the VCSTD to be disseminated to more people.

Data analyses will be conducted on publically available health data relevant to STDs in Troms and Finnmark, like the absolute number of chlamydia tests, the amount of emergency contraception medication sold, and the number of abortions. Also, usage data of the system and experiences of usefulness will be explored through participants’ voluntary responses to a feedback form available in the VCSTD.

Discussion

This study will examine the usefulness of an online public health intervention that aims to promote healthy sexual practices among North-Norwegian youngsters. If shown to be effective, the intervention could prove to be an affordable and widely accessible intervention to decrease risky sexual practices in younger population.

Keywords:
Sexually transmitted diseases; Chlamydia; Health information technologies; Internet; Health education; Social network, Social media; Young adult; Adolescent