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Give good information to debunk web myths
While you might provide correct information to your adolescent patients when it comes to teen sexual health topics, results of a recent study indicate many popular health web sites do not.1
Adolescents go to the Internet for their health information, says the study's lead researcher Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, a board-certified specialist in adolescent medicine at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and a clinical instructor of pediatrics at Stanford University, both in Palo Alto, CA. Many web sites, even trusted portals such as WebMD, have incorrect information and do not update their information according to the latest guidelines, she states.
Yen's team identified leading teen sexual health myths regarding emergency contraception, intrauterine contraception, oral contraceptives, Pap smears, and herpes by 35 well-trafficked health web sites, and presented its findings at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine in Los Angeles. The researchers studied web sites that appeared among the first 10 to 15 hits on Google searches of terms such as "birth control," "morning after pill" and "sexually transmitted disease."
About half of the web sites failed to provide accurate, complete information about emergency contraception, researchers found. For instance, many sites did not correct the myth that emergency contraception causes an abortion. Many sites also did not give the World Health Organization's current recommendations for how to use the dedicated emergency contraceptive pill (1.5 mg of levonorgestrel as a single dose). When used within five days after unprotected intercourse, the regimen reduces a woman's chance of pregnancy by 60-90%. The regimen is more effective the sooner after intercourse it is taken.2
Sixty percent of the web sites said the birth control pill causes weight gain, despite research showing modern oral contraceptives do not affect body weight.3 Less than 20% of the web sites made it clear that intrauterine devices (IUDs) are safe for use in adolescents. Although 74% of web sites with IUD pages were updated in 2008, few reflect published research and a 2007 American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommendation that say adolescents can safely use IUDs.4-6
Forty percent of web sites surveyed did not provide accurate information about the timetable for the first Pap exam, researchers report. According to 2009 ACOG guidelines, women should have their first cervical cancer screening at age 21. Most women younger than 30 should undergo cervical screening once every two years instead of annually, and those age 30 and older can be rescreened once every three years, according to 2009 guidance.7
Give good information
What do you tell teens about health information on the Internet? The most reliable sites identified by Yen's team include:
Yen also recommends the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 2005) to her patients.