Project Links Technology, Medical Care

HealthQuest focuses on BC students, employees

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Boston College researchers are directing an innovative experiment involving University employees and students that could pave the way for consumers to use the World Wide Web in making more informed choices on medical care.

The HealthQuest Project being conducted by members of the Sociology Department is a three-year investigation into the use of technology to promote preventive health care. Through the project, a Web site has been established on the University's InfoEagle system to survey as well as inform targeted members of the BC community on selected health topics, such as substance abuse and breast cancer awareness.

HealthQuest leader Prof. Jeanne Guillemin (Sociology), third from right, with staff members (front row, from left) Maureen Eldredge, Fatemeh Bebakht, Deb Nasitka, Christian Bender; (back row) Brian Cummings, David Gruenberg, Cheryl Orgren and Clev Lorent.
"HealthQuest is part of an effort to empower ordinary Americans in the medical marketplace," said Prof. Jeanne Guillemin (Sociology), principal investigator on the project. "What we're providing is a way to package information about particular diseases and medical conditions, so people can prevent - or seek appropriate treatment for - those conditions."

Funded by a $525,000 grant from the National Library of Medicine, the project is being carried out in cooperation with Brigham and Women's Hospital. Boston College was selected as a research site because of its high-speed fiber optic capacity and the superior access to computer facilities it affords students and staff, according to Guillemin. An editorial board at Harvard Medical School supplied the health information used in the project.

The HealthQuest Web site - accessible only to project participants - offers programs explaining basic biology with easily understandable graphics, access to "chat groups" to encourage learning through interaction, and referrals to support groups and health care providers. The researchers survey participants - who are recruited by e-mail - before they use the resources, then after three months evaluate their response to the programs offered.

The first program, offered this past spring, centered on substance abuse prevention and targeted first-year students, with 300 taking part. One hundred and 25 women employees ages 30 and older are now participating in a breast cancer awareness program.

Upcoming programs will focus on sports injury prevention, targeting varsity athletes; prenatal care, using women graduate students and employees; and sexually transmitted diseases, with undergraduate students as the participants.

For more information on the HealthQuest Project, e-mail Guillemin at health.quest@bc.edu.

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