The impact of the newly developed school-based ‘Digital Health Contact’: Evaluating a health and wellbeing screening tool for adolescents in England

Alice Porter*, Katrina d'Apice, Patricia N Albers, Nicholas Woodrow, Hannah Fairbrother, Katie Breheny, Clare Mills, Sarah Tebbett, Frank de Vocht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Supporting adolescents with their health and wellbeing is an international public health priority. Schools are well placed to universally detect unmet health needs and support pupils. This study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a digital health and wellbeing screening tool, called the ‘Digital Health Contact’ (DHC) implemented in schools in the East Midlands of England. The DHC, delivered by Public Health Nurses (School Nurses) (PHN(SN)), aims to identify pupils with unmet health needs (via a ‘red flag’ system) and provide appropriate support.

Materials and methods
Using data from 22 schools which took part in the DHC and 14 schools which did not take part, across three academic years (2018–2020), we conducted a controlled interrupted timeseries analysis with negative binomial regression to explore the effect of the DHC on the number of annual referrals to PHN(SN). Using DHC data from 164 pupils, we further conducted a Difference-in-Difference analysis to explore the impact of ‘red flag’ and referral via the DHC in Year 9 (age 13–14) on the number of red flags in Year 11 (age 15–16).

Across all schools, the mean annual number of referrals increased over the three year follow-up period. In the adjusted model, the number of referrals was comparable between schools taking part in the DHC and non-participating schools (0.15 referrals [95% CI -0.21, 0.50]). Red flag score was not significantly different among Year 11 pupils, after being referred via the DHC in Year 9 (-0.36 red flags [95% CI -0.97, 0.24]).

The DHC, and similar screening tools, have the potential to raise awareness of the health and wellbeing support in schools and provide an additional pathway of referral to this support for pupils with unmet health needs, without replacing the traditional pathway where pupils refer themselves or are referred by teachers.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0297016
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

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Copyright: © 2024 Porter et al.


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