Digital interventions for parents of acutely ill children and their treatment-seeking behaviour: a systematic review

Emily Donovan, Christopher R Wilcox, Sanjay Patel, Alastair D Hay, Paul Little, Merlin L Willcox

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Consultations for self-limiting infections in children are increasing. It has been proposed that digital technology could be used to enable parents’ decision making in terms of self-care and treatment seeking.

To evaluate the evidence that digital interventions facilitate parents deciding whether to self-care or seek treatment for acute illnesses in children.

Design and setting
Systematic review of studies undertaken worldwide.

Searches of MEDLINE and EMBASE were made to identify studies (of any design) published between database inception and January 2019 that assessed digital interventions for parents of children (from any healthcare setting) with acute illnesses. The primary outcome of interest was whether the use of digital interventions reduced the use of urgent care services.

Three studies were included in the review. They assessed two apps and one website: Children’s On-Call — a US advice-only app; Should I See a Doctor? — a Dutch self-triage app for any acute illness; and Strategy for Off-Site Rapid Triage (SORT) for Kids — a US self-triage website for influenza-like illness. None of the studies involved parents during intervention development and it was shown that many parents did not find the two apps easy to use. The sensitivity of self-triage interventions was 84% for Should I See a Doctor? compared with nurse triage, and 93.3% for SORT for Kids compared with the need for emergency-department intervention; however, both had lower specificity (74% and 13%, respectively). None of the interventions demonstrated reduced use of urgent-care services.

There is little evidence to support the use of digital interventions to help parent and/or carers looking after children with acute illness. Future research should involve parents during intervention development, and adequately powered trials are needed to assess the impact of such interventions on health services and the identification of children who are seriously ill.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e172-e178
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice Open
Issue number692
Early online date27 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • acute disease
  • child health
  • digital intervention
  • mhealth
  • primary care

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