Sex talk: Honest answers from app

App helps pediatrician make most of teen sex talks
May 11th, 2016

There’s a lot to pack into a teenager’s 30- to 45-minute wellness visit. Along with evaluating overall physical health and mental well-being, doctors need to assess the teen’s sexual behaviors and provide him or her with the necessary education and resources to encourage a healthy lifestyle for years to come.

“[Sexual behavior] can be a big topic and take some time to discuss,” said pediatrician Dr. Lisa Turner, of UCHealth’s Longmont Clinic.

Dr. Lisa Turner, a pediatrician at UCHealth’s Longmont Clinic, has found that a new app helps her better identify the sexual risks of her teen patients and allows her to more efficiently have necessary conversations with them about the sensitive topic.

Turner recently swapped the decades-old, paper sexual risk assessment form with an app — a tool she’s found fosters honesty and efficiency in her “sex talks” with teenage patients.

The OPTIONS Risk Assessment is a web-based application that takes patients through a series of questions regarding their current sexual experiences and their feelings toward their behaviors. It also asks about the patient’s use of drugs and alcohol, as well as use of contraceptives.

“They seem to be more honest and detailed when using the app than just having a face-to-face with me,” Turner said. “I’ve been surprised with information I know would have not come out with the parent in the room.”

Her patients age 15 and older are asked to arrive about 15 minutes before their appointment. When they check in, the nurse hands them a tablet and asks if they’d take the 10-minute risk assessment. The results for Turner are immediate. She is then armed with the information she needs to get right to the point — providing her patients with medical advice based on their sexual behaviors. (See a demo on how the app works at

“Some (doctors) are still using the two-level assessment that we’ve been using since the 1970s,” said Dr. Lisa Rue, who helped create the app. “Our culture has really changed. This has eight levels of sexual risk tailored to the patient, and it maximizes the time the doctor spends with the patient.”

OPTIONS was developed in 2013 by Rue, who has more than 20 years of experience in school-based sex education and youth mentoring and has a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Colorado State University, and Dr. Kate Lusczakoski, who has a master’s in neuropsychology and a Ph.D. in applied statistics from the University of Northern Colorado.

Turner began using the app at her office more than a year ago as part of the OPTIONS pilot program. During that time, Turner said she felt the app helped her identify — and therefore educate and provide resources to — several patients whom she believes would have not shared their sexual behaviors with her had it not been for the app.

Another thing Turner likes about OPTIONS is that whether she is talking to sexually active or inactive teens, the app assists her in providing her patients with healthy information tailored specifically to them because it gives her an outline of their behaviors as well as talking points and action items.

Soon Turner will be able to provide patients with additional resources to access via their smart phones as part of this app. Currently, the app is web-based, but will soon move to a mobile platform.

“These teens want to look up this information, and the next development in this app will provide them with accurate information about their decisions,” Turner said. “I do believe this app has improved my care. It gives me more information in a shorter amount of time and it helps me focus on how to better counsel my patients.”