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

Abstract

Introduction
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).

Results
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]).

Discussion
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
Volume19
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This study is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research (SPHR) (Grant Reference Number SPHR-PHPES009-DHC). The grant was awarded to FDV. The NIHR School for Public Health Research is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Bristol, Cambridge, Imperial, University College London, The London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), LiLaC — a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool and Lancaster and The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health (Fuse) a collaboration between Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2024 Porter et al.

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