Digital health is an increasingly popular way for young people to access health services. There is paucity of research exploring the use of e-health services by under-16s. As an online doctor service offering sexual health services to adults, we reviewed under-16s trying to access services and evaluated safeguarding procedures.Methods
A retrospective audit of under-16s trying to access e-sexual health services between January-December 2015.Results
66 patients were identified, 71.2% female, mostly distributed in urban areas (13-fold increase from 2008-2013).Results
The most frequently accessed services were emergency contraception (27.3%) and routine contraception (43.9%). 22.7% (n15) entered an incorrect date-of-birth. Along with answering a questionnaire online, of the remaining patients, 52.9% (n27) completed a safeguarding assessment with a doctor via telephone, 5.9% (n3) via online messaging, both guided by ‘Spotting- the-Signs’, 41.2% (n21) did not respond to requests for further information and could not be contacted. Safeguarding concerns were identified in 37.3% (n19) and referred to social services. All were directed to appropriate face-to-face services and advised GP follow-up.Discussion
Our data shows increasing access by under-16s to esexual health services. A significant proportion were identified as being at-risk of sexual exploitation. A telephone safeguarding assessment together with our online evaluation was effective for identifying safeguarding concerns. Alongside IT systems to prevent those trying to bypass checks online, many of our services (including contraception and emergency contraception) require attendance to pharmacy. This provides an additional opportunity to verify identity and screen for safeguarding concerns supporting the ongoing safety of young people.