For HPV, mobile devices may not be silver bullet to education, vaccine uptake

These days there’s a mobile app for just about anything, and college students are regularly interacting with apps on their smartphones. That’s why health promoters, health communicators and healthcare providers have been exploring the possibilities of mHealth technologies to educate students about health care services.

New research from the University of Georgia suggests that in the case of HPV, healthcare providers shouldn’t place too much faith in the smart device alone to get their message across.

“Although college students own, utilize and speak technology more than any other population subgroup, this study indicates that college students are overwhelmingly hesitant to receive basic information about the HPV virus and vaccine over their smartphone,” said Gabrielle Darville, a health promotion and behavior researcher at UGA’s College of Public Health and lead author on the study.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection, currently affecting more than 79 million people in the United States. Though a vaccine has been available for ten years, many college students did not receive the HPV vaccine as adolescents.

As health promoters, Darville says, “our goal is to close the gap in any HPV vaccine disparities among these young adults especially before the [health insurance] cut off age of 26 to receive the vaccine.”

The study surveyed 210 students, ages 18 to 25, about their preferences using mobile health apps or texts to receive information about HPV and the HPV vaccine. Overall, respondents were hesitant to use texts and apps for HPV due to privacy, memory and data cost concerns.

Their responses were also categorized by gender, age, and health insurance type so the researchers could learn whether these factors further impact HPV knowledge and communication preferences.

Women, students with private health insurance, and those with easier access to a doctor tended to prefer getting information directly from a healthcare provider. Men, however, were more likely to learn about HPV vaccines from a mobile app.

“What the results tell us is that we should tailor and customize our mHealth interventions when working with the collegiate population,” said Darville.

According to Darville, these findings show that the traditional “one-size-fits-all” strategy of providing general information through an app may only have limited success.

“I think to overcome the concerns, public health and healthcare professionals should take more time to explore the way the message is framed and the intervention is packaged over mHealth technologies,” she said.

“By understanding those individual differences and integrating them into our strategies, only then can we increase HPV knowledge, encourage positive attitudes and empower those in the “catch up” group to complete the 3 dose vaccine series by age of 26.”

The study, “Utilizing mHealth technology to increase HPV knowledge and HPV vaccine uptake in adolescents: A qualitative study” appeared in the Journal of Adolescent and Family Health. It is available online here:

Co-authors include Charkarra Anderson-Lewis, Rebeccah Mercado, Jessica Ma, and Jann MacInnes.

– Lauren Baggett

The story is also available at UGA Today.

Posted on October 8, 2018.