JUN 16, 2021 2:00 PM PDT

Online App Increases Health Literacy and Reduces Vaccine Hesitancy in Incarcerated Women

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Many women released from prison are returning to communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, communities that also face low levels of health literacy and hesitancy towards COVID-19 vaccines. Researchers at the University of Kansas and Kansas University Medical Center are looking for ways to intervene, in the form of a digital education tool.

Researchers at the University of Kansas, led by Mugur Geana, associate professor of journalism & mass communications and director of KU's Center for Excellence in Health Communications to Underserved Populations conducted 2 different studies to understand health literacy needs of incarcerated women and potential ways to intervene. In their first study, published in Public Health Nursing, 25 women were interviewed shortly after leaving prison. Researchers tried to understand how these participants viewed the COVID-19 vaccines, specifically. Their findings were staggering: nearly three-quarters of respondents expressed some kind of hesitancy to getting the vaccine, with nearly half firmly saying they would not get the vaccine. 

"We expected to find some hesitancy among these women, but not at these levels. To a certain extent, some of those factors for hesitancy can be addressed or corrected through better education and information provided by people they trust. They can also be addressed by health literacy interventions like those we are developing. Probably the No. 1 lesson from this study is that there is an immediate need for intervention about both COVID-19 testing as well as the COVID-19 vaccine for underserved populations,” said Geana.

One possible intervention, according to a second study published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, is a digital app designed to help boost health literacy.

The app, called the SHE WOMEN mHealth Intervention, provides access to multimedia content on a range of health topics. The research team, led by professor Geana, found that the SHE WOMEN mHealth Intervention was received favorably by users and helped increase their health literacy, due in part because of the mechanism of delivery.

"The way health information for this population is delivered is mostly by in-person sessions during incarceration. A doctor or nurse talks with them for a half-hour or so, and they move on. We decided to move away from that model and use multiple sessions that transition seamlessly and where users can start with any module they like, when they feel they are ready to learn about their health,” said Geana. 

Despite these promising results, recent research suggests there is still much to be learned about the efficacy of mobile app interventions for health-related reasons. But the work by the research team led by Geana is a step in the right direction.

Source: PR Newswire

About the Author
  • Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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