Keeping kids health, online

Four of Canada’s leading children’s hospitals have joined forces to build up a website that is sure to become a world-class source of information about children’s health.

Kathryn London-Penny

Kathryn London-Penny

HALIFAX — Four of Canada’s leading children’s hospitals have joined forces to build up a website that is sure to become a world-class source of information about children’s health.

The site, www.AboutKidsHealth.ca, was created by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in 2004.

Since then, it has grown with the help of pediatric experts from IWK Health Centre in Halifax, B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver and Children’s Hospital at the London Health Sciences Centre in southern Ontario.

“It’s a massive collaboration across the country,” says Sue Mackay, director of communications at SickKids in Toronto. “Our early focus is Canadian, but we want to expand to partnerships around the world.”

The online resource already includes a vast array of information in English, French and Chinese. Some key sections are also spelled out in Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Urdu, Swahili and Tamil.

On average, the site receives more than 140,000 visits each month.

AboutKidsHealth.ca is aimed at three groups: parents, educators and community health-care providers.

To be sure, there are scores of other websites providing help to those seeking answers about child heath care. However, Mackay says this site is different.

First, it is put together by non-profit health agencies, which sets it apart from the scores of corporate-owned nodes in cyberspace.

“This is without any ulterior motives — other than to improve the health-care education of people around the world,” says Mackay.

The site is also remarkable for its clarity.

Unlike most health-related websites, AboutKidsHealth.ca offers concise, plain-language articles, videos and illustrations that contain very little medical jargon.

“The accessibility of the language is really important, particularly in the front part of the site,” Mackay says. “It is written so that the average person can read it, understand it and digest it … The content on our site is very rigorously reviewed.”

There are hundreds of child health articles on the site, covering everything from mild illnesses to chronic diseases.

Want to know what to do when your child has a fever? Is your tween concerned about puberty? Need help managing childhood diabetes? AboutKidsHealth.ca provides answers about diagnosis, treatment and long-term outcomes.

Other sections deal with insect bites, pain, asthma, behaviour challenges, cancer and epilepsy, just to name a few.

“The website’s content is entirely expert-driven with contributions from many of Canada’s leading pediatric minds, including many from the IWK,” says Kathryn London-Penny, the Halifax hospital’s executive director of public relations.

“A dedicated team based in Toronto helps ensure that all information is accurate, current and relevant to children and their families.”

A special section is aimed at children, complete with kid-friendly videos, games and interactive comics. Youngsters can learn about bullying, sun safety, dental care, handwashing and sleep through a series of colourfully animated stories.

As well, Mindi and Mark — “the Monster Mythblasters” — explore the touchy subject of puberty. The cheeky comic’s other characters include Horrormone, Hairy, Sweaty, Zit and Jenny Talia.

Dr. Pat McGrath, a clinical psychologist at IWK, writes an advice column, and new sections have been added on autism spectrum disorder, blood and bone marrow transplants, juvenile arthritis, leukemia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The website’s partnership with IWK was established more than two years ago, but the hospital’s site will soon be updated with the new content and multi-language sections.

“Clinicians from the IWK are regularly featured as experts in their respective fields,” says London-Penny. “Our clinicians are also involved in the development of an online autism resource centre.”

In late January, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq committed $4.5 million over three years to the project. She said the website is an important tool for parents and cited research which suggests that more than 68 per cent of parents turn to the Internet for medical advice.

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