B.C. Health Project Expands

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Sociology Department researchers assessing the role of technology in preventive health care have expanded their project to offer the campus community information and resources on substance abuse, breast disease, sports injury, prenatal care and cardiovascular health.

In collaboration with Brigham and Women's Hospital, the HealthAware Project - formerly known as HealthQuest - uses the World Wide Web as a means for participants to learn about health care issues and make informed choices about self-care and seeking clinical help.

Having conducted a series of pilot programs with selected groups in the University, HealthAware coordinators are now encouraging any and all BC administrators, faculty, staff and students to utilize the project Web site, at http://www.healthaware.org.

"Medical literacy is what the HealthAware program is all about," said Prof. Jeanne Guillemin (Sociology), principal investigator for the three-year project. "The American public is increasingly educating itself about health issues. These programs make it easier to find out needed and relevant information about issues that concern them or problems that they have. Some people wait for a crisis to strike, but even getting through routine medical examinations today requires knowing what questions to ask."

At the HealthAware home page, users select a link to one of the five subject areas, where they can fill out a confidential form. Each site has access to programs explaining basic biology with easy-to-understand graphics, and provides access to referral information, support groups and providers. Participants also can join Web-based chat groups and threaded discussions, and view a frequently-asked-questions page.

Among the features are "MedMail," which enables users to send questions by e-mail to health care professionals affiliated with the project, and "Infomedical," a dictionary of on-line medical resources.

Guillemin said project coordinators are sensitive to users' concerns about confidentiality and privacy, pointing out that the Web site is restricted to the BC community.

"Our most important successes with this project," she said, "have been when participants tell us they really used what they learned from the program, that they do better breast self-examinations or are changing their life styles to reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease. All the programs encourage individual risk assessment and, we hope, encourage people to take good care of themselves, feel better, and enjoy life more."

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