A new tablet application using a self-persuasion method has been successful in convincing parents in underserved communities to have their children vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a study.

Of 45 participating parents, 27 of the 33 (82%) parents whose adolescents were not vaccinated reported that they decided to get their children vaccinated after completing the application. The remaining 12 already had an HPV-vaccinated adolescent. Children of participating parents were aged 11-17 years (Patient Educ Couns. 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2016.11.014 ).

Self-persuasion methodology is a process that forces participants to contemplate the reasoning behind their own actions, which, according to Austin S. Baldwin, PhD, of Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and his colleagues, has proven to be a successful persuasion tool in addressing other aspects of behavior. “Approaches to self-persuasion have improved health behaviors, including smoking cessation, dietary behaviors, and safer sex practices.” However, “self-persuasion [has not previously] been developed to promote the … HPV vaccine,” especially in medically underserved communities.

Of the 45 parents, 31 (69%) were Hispanic and 29 (64%) held a high school education or less, according to the study.

To test the effectiveness of self-persuasion, researchers developed a tablet application which started with a 5 minute video on HPV and vaccine efficacy, and then asked parents to complete two tasks: answer questions about the HPV vaccine that prompt thought on its benefits and come up with personal reasons for why having their child vaccinated is important.

Parents then participated in a 45-60 minute interview with one of six research assistants, who prompted participants to address four research points: Did they like the application? Which questions generated interest in the HPV vaccine without raising concerns? Were they able to communicate reasons for vaccination? Were they convinced to have their children vaccinated?

After watching the video, 18 (55%) of the 33 parents whose children were not vaccinated changed their minds, and, after participating in the self-persuasion questionnaire, an additional 9 parents decided to vaccinate their children, according to the study. Five parents remained undecided, and one decided against HPV vaccination.

Overall, participants reported that the application questions were helpful in their decision to vaccinate their children, with question ratings ranging from 4.33 to 4.98 on a scale of 1 to 5.

Mr. Baldwin and his colleagues said that, while the initial test showed promise, further research must be done on actual vaccine behavior, as these tests only studied verbally reported decisions by parents.

One of the limitations to the study was that the research was primarily conducted at a research facility. While some was conducted in local clinics, Mr. Baldwin and his colleagues consider that further studies should be conducted in more public areas. All but one of the participants were female, which may make it hard to generalize about the effects of this application with male parents.

The researchers reported no relevant financial disclosures.

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