Background: Online social networking and personally controlled health management systems (PCHMS) offer a new opportunity for developing innovative interventions to prevent diseases of public health concern (e.g., influenza) but there are few comparative studies about patterns of use and impact of these systems.
Methods/design: A 2010 CONSORT-compliant randomised controlled trial with a two-group parallel design will assess the efficacy of a web-based PCHMS called Healthy.me in facilitating the uptake of influenza vaccine amongst university students and staff. Eligible participants are randomised either to obtain access to Healthy.me or a 6-month waitlist. Participants complete pre-study, post-study and monthly surveys about their health and utilisation of health services. A post-study clinical audit will be conducted to validate self-reports about influenza vaccination and visits to the university health service due to influenza-like illness (ILI) amongst a subset of participants. 600 participants older than 18 years with monthly access to the Internet and email will be recruited. Participants who (i) discontinue the online registration process; (ii) report obtaining an influenza vaccination in 2010 before the commencement of the study; or (iii) report being influenced by other participants to undertake influenza vaccination will be excluded from analysis. The primary outcome measure is the number of participants obtaining influenza vaccination during the study. Secondary outcome measures include: number of participants (i) experiencing ILI symptoms, (ii) absent from or experiencing impairment in work or study due to ILI symptoms, (iii) using health services or medications due to ILI symptoms; (iv) expressing positive or negative attitudes or experiences towards influenza vaccination, via their reasons of receiving (or not receiving) influenza vaccine; and (v) their patterns of usage of Healthy.me (e.g., frequency and timing of hits, duration of access, uptake of specific functions).
Discussion: This study will provide new insights about the utility of online social networking and PCHMS for public health and health promotion. It will help to assess whether a web-based PCHMS, with connectivity to a health service provider, containing information and self-management tools, can improve the uptake of preventive health services amongst university students and staff.
Trial registration: ACTRN12610000386033 (Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry).