Sex Ed 101: Here’s what we’ve learned so far…

The last year and a half has been very eventful here at P4C – we launched RAAPS 2.0 with a complete platform upgrade…  AND we released our first new product since our company was founded: the Adolescent Counseling Technology or “ACT” for Sexual Health (and our release of ACT for Tobacco is just around the corner).

With over a year of youth completing ACT for Sexual Health – we took a moment to analyze the data and reflect on what we’ve learned so far.  We were shaken at some of the findings and wanted to share them with you!

Our first ‘schooling’ came in the data.  We expected higher rates of risk among sexually active youth – but the levels are honestly staggering (and disquieting).

Among sexually active youth who were assessed and counseled by the ACT for Sexual Health system:

  • 19% have been in an abusive relationship in the last 12 months and 16% report being forced to participate in unwanted sexual activity
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) had a partner who refused to use condoms or prevented the youth from using birth control
  • And 16% of youth report having bartered sex (for a place to stay, phone, alcohol or drugs, money or something else) – this number was much higher than any of us involved in the research and development of ACT had anticipated – and a growing trend that should be on the radar of all providers and professionals working with youth.

Schooling number two?  ACT solves different problems depending on the setting. We reached out to the providers and professionals using ACT – ranging from experienced sexual health gurus to novices and newbies.  We were interested in finding out the different ways organizations are using ACT SH to solve their problems related to engaging youth and supporting them in healthy decision making:

  • SBHCs are using ACT to open the door to more in-depth, in-person dialogue and counseling with sexually active youth and they are using the population-level data for reporting and to guide programming
  • Primary care and pediatric practices are using the electronic counseling to ensure sexually active youth are provided evidence-based, standardized education (a challenge in time-crunched practices where providers often have varying levels of experience and comfort levels with sex-related risk topics)
  • Health Departments are leveraging the technology to provide STI counseling and follow-up on a sustainable scale that wasn’t previously possible with lean staffing and limited funding
  • Youth and school programs use ACT to identify the myriad of sexual health services youth need and provide appropriate referrals and resources.

And finally – when it comes to adolescent sexual health:  standardization, scalability & sustainability really matter.  Building on the previous points – for providers and professionals working with youth to reduce sexual health risks ACT provides the ability to provide evidence-based, standardized counseling across a broad population, essential in today’s time-crunched, underfunded world.  For many of the organizations we work with who depend on grant-funding, ACT for Sexual Health is providing an affordable, sustainable intervention to bridge funding fluctuations.

Are you using ACT for Sexual Health?  If so, please weigh in and tell us your Sex Ed story!

Want to learn more?  Click here to schedule a call to find out more about ACT SH works in organizations like yours.

Getting to “Why?”

How boot-camp took us back to the future.

Our team recently went through a strategic planning “boot-camp” as part of a grant requirement.  A mandatory part of the exercise was justifying our value…what do we bring to the table, how do we help?

This was definitely a test.   Our short answers, in rapid succession:

  • “Because 75% of serious illness and death in youth is preventable…”
  • “Because nearly half of all youth who commit suicide visited a healthcare provider within the previous month…”
  • “Umm…because it’s the right thing to do?”

We were pushed further: “What is in it for your users – the healthcare provider, the professional working with youth?  How are you helping them?”

Ahhh – there it was, the lightbulb moment!

Preventing avoidable illness and death in youth is our mission – it’s the reason why we do what we do.  It’s the same mission that drives most of us in this work.

But making it as easy as possible for providers and professionals, to identify and counsel youth on the risky behaviors that drive our mission…making it painless…THAT is the reason behind WHY we’ve created every single solution and service we offer.

It’s the reason why RAAPS was created in the first place.  It was our first “tool”. RAAPS was developed to solve all of the workflow and practice management issues that get in the way of your mission:

  • Validated, short-format. Why? Your time is short – RAAPS has been proven to identify the most significant risks – in minutes.
  • Why? To ensure every youth is screened the same way – with the same questions – every time.
  • Tablet / smartphone delivery. Why? Youth engage honestly with technology – you don’t have to “ask” all of the questions – instead you can use your time to follow up on the risks identified.
  • Prioritized, evidence-based talking points. Why?  To make it easier to get the conversation started specific to the risks identified – we all have different experience and comfort levels with risk topics.

Yes, we could go on…  but back to boot-camp.  It was a great experience – if for no other reason than it reminded us of why we continue to develop our technology… facilitate the adolescent-focused MI trainings… write the books…. Why we got started and where we are going into the future – as we achieve our mission together with all of you!

Why RAAPS?

RAAPS versus GAPS and other homegrown risk screening tools

People pose the “why?” question every day. Why should I invest the time, energy and resources into an adolescent risk screening and counseling technology? We may be biased, but our answer is simple: why not?

Before we dive into the several reasons why thousands of sites nationwide find tremendous value of integrating RAAPS into their practice or program, here is the 140-character, tweet-friendly definition of RAAPS: a standardized, validated risk assessment and behavior change counseling tool to support health professionals working with adolescents.

In simplified language, we make it easy for health professionals to do their job. We partner with clinicians, counselors and other providers who are passionate about improving adolescent health. Our partners—like school-based health centers, pediatric offices, sexual health clinics, schools, etc.—operate within a preventative-oriented culture (not crisis-oriented) and genuinely care about identifying risks, improving outcomes and changing lives. It’s not for the faint of heart.

RAAPS can make you money

“Say what?!” (Please excuse our language. Sometimes we find the way teens speak kind of catchy.) Yes, our leading risk assessments can save you money. How?

  • RAAPS dramatically improves the productivity of your existing staff and the effectiveness of your operations. You will no longer have to sit face-to-face with your patient, ask the sometimes-awkward questions, record the data, then figure out how to best counsel the patient to promote positive behavior change. RAAPS saves a provider’s time by flagging potential risk behaviors and offering health message talking points to guide the conversation.
  • By using a standardized, validated tool (RAAPS) to screen adolescents each month, the cloud-based system may be able to pay for itself. Assuming an average insurance reimbursement rate of $5 per administration, your sites would need to use the system with only 10 patients per month in order to recover the cost of using the system. #winning

RAAPS’ real-time tracking and easy to use reporting measures outcomes

Can your risk screening tool do this? If it’s not RAAPS, the answer is likely no. Access to individual and population data allows you to identify trends and assess your intervention effectiveness. Plus, data gathered can be helpful when applying for grants and gaining additional funding.

RAAPS asks the right questions

The risk landscape is always changing and unfortunately widening, which is why we continue to update or modify our questions to elicit honest responses from teens. Other risk screening tools, such as GAPS, hasn’t been updated since the early 2000’s. The way teens speak and the risks they’re involved in have changed drastically since the era of Boy Meets World and Backstreet Boys. At Possibilities for Change, we continue to identify issues and areas that are harmful to a teen’s health and well-being. One of the many beautiful things about RAAPS is that all questions are scientifically validated—and we used teens to help us refine the actual questions so that they were more understandable and relevant! Unlike most homegrown tools, the RAAPS youth-friendly patient portal includes audio and bilingual health messages features to increase health literacy.

The 21-question RAAPS assessment falls within seven risk categories identified by the CDC as contributing to adolescent morbidity and mortality. The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine has our back, citing RAAPS as one of their important resources, handouts, toolkits and treatment protocols for healthcare providers to use in their practices.

In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, the manner and method of how we ask is just as important as what we ask. When it comes to discussions around things like sexual behavior and alcohol use, teens are more honest and comfortable answering to a tablet or other technology than an adult. The assessment takes about 5 minutes to complete—a better alternative to other assessments out there that take more than a half hour. Ain’t nobody got time for that! (We warned you.)

Learn more about RAAPS at possibilitiesforchange.com or drop us a line at info@pos4chg.org.

Top 5 Reasons to Invest in Adolescent Health

Global investments in adolescent health harvests significant economic gains

Recently headlines broke across all consumer and health media outlets that signified the importance of investing in teen health from a global financial perspective. Like any other professional who is in the landscape of improving adolescent health, this kind of global attention and correlation between teen health and the economy gets me excited!

The news referenced a study that highlighted a small investment in “empowering and protecting the world’s 1 billion adolescents can bring a 10-fold return.” Here’s what it said:

“Improving the physical, mental and sexual health of kids aged 10 to 19 – at a cost equivalent to US$4.60 per person per year – could result in a 10-fold economic return by preventing 12 million deaths and more than 30 million unwanted pregnancies.”

I can think of 1,000 reasons to invest in adolescent health, but here are my top 5:

  1. With fewer teens giving birth each year, a country’s young dependent population grows smaller in relation to the working-age population, creating a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth.
  2. Keeping teens safe and encouraging them to make smart decisions can help to break the spread of poverty and disadvantage across generations.
  3. The rapid physical, cognitive and psychosocial growth and development that takes place during adolescence influences an individual for the rest of his or her life.
  4. In three out of four cases of serious injury or death in adolescents, the common causes are preventable. Support in healthy decision-making will help set a pattern of healthy lifestyles and reduce morbidity, disability and premature mortality later in adulthood.
  5. This generation of adolescents will transform all our futures!

How you can take action!

  • The key to improving adolescent health is operating from a prevention mentality versus a crisis approach. Investing in a risk identification assessment tool will address the early onset of behaviors that can grow to be potentially harmful. Plus, RAAPS, a globally-recognized, evidence-based, standardized risk screening and behavior change counseling tool can pay for itself with the proper reimbursement codes.
  • When it comes to talking with teens about sexual health, things can get awkward. That’s why we developed ACT Sexual Health, a virtual health educator where teens respond to assessment questions on a tablet or other technology device and receive sexual health education specifically tailored to them. Upon completion, ACT generates a personalized safer sex action plan, health messages and customized referral sources.
  • Risk behaviors account for the majority of teen injury and premature death. In the face of these challenges, health professionals and parents need concrete, actionable strategies for productive discussions about risky behaviors. Teen Speak is a how-to guide for real talks with teens to foster strong relationships and trust-building during the most formative time in their lives.

The importance of engaging and coaching parents to reduce adolescent risk

It’s a statistic you’re probably familiar with: 3 out of 4 adolescent deaths in the US today are due to identifiable and preventable risk behaviors. Common risk behaviors that include suicide, substance use, unsafe sexual behaviors and unintentional injuries and violence.

When it comes to keeping our teens safe, the phrase “it takes two to tango” rings especially true. Adolescents need access to a trusted adult in a private setting where they can disclose information that may be detrimental to their health or well-being. That’s where professional risk screening and counseling comes in. If a health care professional is providing risk behavior counseling and a parent isn’t enforcing the same practices and principles at home, it can be a wasted and ineffective effort. Parent influence is so important. Family closeness and attachment have been shown to be one of the most important factors in leading to less drug use, delayed sexual experiences, and fewer suicide attempts in teens.

Sounds complicated? It doesn’t have to be. Encouraging and supporting youth to make safe decisions is truly a partnership. It’s your role as a health professional to call the plays in “practice”, but it’s the role of the parent to coach and shape their children to perform well when it’s game time.

So, how do we most effectively work together?

First, understanding exactly what is happening (and why it is happening) during adolescence and utilizing effective communication strategies can help you support adolescents during this physically and emotionally challenging time.

Then, it’s up to you to equip parents with the understanding, tools and direction to guide their children to smart behaviors that keep them out of harm’s way.

If you need some support and resources for parent coaching, I encourage you to join me and other health care professionals from around the country as we come together to explore how to improve communication and engage parents to reduce adolescent risk.

Register today for the webinar on Thursday, December 8 at 3 p.m.: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/389295664702592514