James Benoit Faculty of Nursing

Improving health decision-making for Canadian parents

A University of Alberta researcher is using his background in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve the health decision-making of Canadians by creating the first mobile health app for parents using Canadian-relevant health research.

Nearly one million Canadian parents taking their child to an Emergency Department this year will have a limited understanding of basic health information because of poor health literacy.

“Parents with low health literacy are three times as likely to bring their child in for non-urgent conditions, and improving parent health literacy is likely to decrease unneeded trips to the hospital,” says James Benoit, a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Nursing. “A new way of assisting with health literacy is developing digital health tools, such as apps for mobile phones and tablets.”

Apps offer a uniquely accessible, scalable and untapped solution for giving parents access to high-quality, actionable health information about their sick child.

Benoit is using AI to understand how parents interact with knowledge translation resources about acute child illness, and how the information informs their decision-making and behaviour. Using this data, he will then develop an app for parents using Canadian-relevant health research, allowing easy access to acute childhood illnesses information.

“To use the app, parents will verbally describe their child’s symptoms, like a fever, runny nose or diarrhea,” explains Benoit. “These symptoms will be matched to the correct health information, which will be presented as a set of knowledge translation tools—like videos or infographics—in the app.”

All of the knowledge translation tools are built on best-available research evidence, co-developed with Canadian parents and healthcare professionals to ensure they resonate with parents.

Benoit will use data from this app to determine how parents find and act on health information in an app, and how parental identities like gender, race and age influence app use and health decisions. These insights will allow Benoit and the team, including Stollery Science Lab Distinguished Researchers Shannon Scott and Lisa Hartling, to refine and improve the app as they continuously gather more data.

“My ultimate goal is to help parents learn more about childhood illnesses and manage their child’s condition with confidence, while hopefully reducing unnecessary trips to a doctor or hospital,” says Benoit.

It’s cutting-edge research like this that can transform how we deliver and how parents access health information that could have dramatic impacts on children’s health and the health system.

Benoit is supervised by Shannon Scott in the Faculty of Nursing and Lisa Hartling in the Department of Pediatrics. His fellowship has been funded by the generous support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.