This site is intended for health professionals only

How we use cyberspace to target teenagers’ health

Dr Amir Hannan explains how his practice used the internet to reach out to teenagers in his area and find out about their health needs and concerns.

Our practice has a history of using our practice website to as a tool for educating and empowering patients. One patient - Sheila Caldecott – and a mother of two teenagers asked us for help with a questionnaire for teenagers to find their health-seeking behaviour and the health-related issues they want to know about. We were happy to help.

Developing the questionnaire

Sheila sat down with her own teenage sons and their friends to draw up a simple questionnaire looking at issues teenagers may be concerned about.

The partners at the practice and members of the patient participation group and our local Care Record Development Board, including the local early intervention consultant psychiatrist, were also involved in drawing the questionnaire up.

The questionnaire – called Speak for Yourself - includes their age, what services they have accessed in the last three years, and what health areas they are most concerned about.

It also asks what websites they have been to and how – and from whom – they would like information fed back to them on health-related issues.

Collecting responses

We considered a number of methods of disseminating the questionnaire including producing paper copies of it, attaching it as a PDF link to the website or emailing it out to patients directly.

In the end, we decided to use a web survey tool and embed it on our practice website so that respondents could clearly see that it was from a trusted source and could share it easily with others.

We recently won the ‘Best Use of Information Management and Technology' award at the Management in Practice awards and we have used our practice website to signpost patients to relevant information and services.

The website was developed in conjunction with InteractivHealth, and the content is entirely developed by practice staff as well as patients who have provided suggestions and articles that they feel are relevant for others to see.

We do this using the fully editable content management platform which is easy to maintain and is entirely in our control. With no advertising and being locally produced, it is a true partnership between patients and the practice.

Promotion and distribution

Sheila Caldecott produced a podcast on the website explaining the questionnaire and encouraging teenagers to do the survey.

Teenagers also produced leaflets and posters encouraging their peers to go to the website and try it out. Copies were given to all the staff and left in the waiting room for patients to pick up.

Members of the patient participation group approached the headmasters of local schools and invited them to promote the questionnaire in their schools.

The response

Within one week we had received over 200 responses. The survey revealed over half of teenagers had been to a GP surgery in the past year and 10% had been to a walk-in centre.

Google was the most visited website for health-related matters, with only 11% going to the GP's website. Commonest concerns were about exercise, sports and healthy eating, but safe sex, alcohol, worries about loved ones and knives, gangs and guns were all in the top 10.

Before school finished for the Christmas break, we launched the webpage, sent a thank you message to the local schools for taking part and put the results of the survey on the website. You can view them here.

We are continuing to direct teenagers and their parents to the website and feedback has been excellent. Best of all, it was all done in two weeks with the minimum of fuss. This is the internet at its best.

Dr Amir Hannan is a GP in Manchester. See for further details or e-mail on

How we use cyberspace to target teenagers (credit: zenobia joy Flickr) Teenager's concerns