Indiana State University Newsroom

Advanced practice nursing students develop health website

July 10, 2013

It's a scene that plays out regularly at health care facilities across the country.

"People will come in and say, ‘I looked this up on the Internet and this is what I think I have,'" said Andrea Underwood, a nurse practitioner who works in a hospital emergency room. "They're really scared because they think they have a disease that can't be cured or will get progressively worse."

Patients are often relieved to learn that those worst-case scenarios they have read online don't apply to their illness, Underwood said. It is often difficult for patients and their families, and sometimes even for health care providers, to find accurate, evidence-based information on the Web, she said.

Underwood, who completed a doctor of nursing practice degree through Indiana State University, has worked with other Indiana State doctoral students to develop a social networking website where patients and families can be assured of finding accurate information.

The students developed ISU Health Web as a requirement for a nursing informatics course. In addition to viewing evidence-based information about various health topics, visitors to the site can also join forum discussions. Upon becoming members, they can take full advantage of the social media project by exchanging messages with other patients, family members, educators and health care professionals.

Another advantage of ISU Health Web is that it has no annoying pop-ups, noted Ann McNeill, another student who helped develop the site.

"You don't see any advertisements flying across the screen or any distracting information," she said. "You just get what you've asked for."

McNeill, Underwood and two other advanced practice nursing students at Indiana State, wrote a paper about the site that was published earlier this year in the Online Journal of Nursing Informatics.

"Social networking and health information technology are reported to be the future of healthcare delivery, and these technologies help increase the ability of people to communicate and collaborate, despite the obstacles of geography and time," the students noted in the paper.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, eight out of 10 internet users routinely search online for health information. However, the accuracy of information many sites - especially when it comes to social media - has been called into question. For example, the most popular online video about irritable bowel disease "was not of good quality," according to an analysis by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

"Anybody can get on the Internet in this day and time and look up all types of diseases and anybody can put anything they want to on the Internet. We think ISU Health Web is one of the first sites of its kind for evidence-based material and that was our goal-to ensure that people get the facts," said Underwood.

"It gives anyone searching the web for health information an accurate place to go, and if you don't find what you want you can get accurate information from a health care provider that works in that field," added McNeill. "They can give you the information you need or direct you to a place where you can find the information."

Leaders of the American Nursing Informatics Association were so impressed that they invited the Indiana State nursing students to give a presentation about their project at the association's 2013 conference in San Antonio.

While the site was initially limited to nursing, plans are to expand its reach to provide content from physician assistant and social work programs, and the long term goal is to include information from a broad spectrum of health care fields, the students said.

"Interdepartmental and interdisciplinary involvement should make the ISU Health Web social network better for future users," said Roseanne Fairchild, assistant professor of advanced practice nursing. "Continuing to reshape and evaluate content and querying users regarding specific content they would like to see added should make this interactive collaboration a useful tool for all users. Many patients utilize the internet as their first source of information. It is imperative that universities and healthcare organizations strive to present social networks and other health-related sites that are relevant, current and, above all, evidence-based in their approach to care."

If technology really is the future of health care, students in Indiana State's doctor of nursing practice program have a head start. They developed ISU Health Web collaboratively using Ning, a social media development platform, while continuing to work as nurse practitioners. That's because the program itself is entirely online.

Underwood works in the emergency department at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. while McNeill is a primary health care provider at an express care clinic operated through Parma Community General Hospital in Northwest Ohio. She also helped establish a rural health clinic.

"Dr. Fairchild set the course up to where we would meet online and put together this web site. We were divided into groups and each group participated in a different section," McNeill said. "It was an environment that nobody was used to. We're all used to Facebook, but Ning was a new platform. We had to work together to figure out how to use it and how to make it work so each person or group was responsible for a different part of the web site."

The caring approach of Indiana State's faculty members came through even though the curriculum was online, Underwood said, noting that the Informatics conference took place at the same time as the university's spring commencement where she was scheduled to be recognized for completing her doctorate.

"Dr. Fairchild brought graduation regalia and actually hooded and capped me on stage in San Antonio after our presentation. That was pretty special for me," she said. "I think that goes a long way saying what type of professors Indiana State has."

McNeill completed a master's degree in nursing at Indiana State prior to enrolling in the doctoral program and said the education she has received - and continues to receive - is exceptional.

"I have five or six universities at my front door and I still think that I get a better bang for my dollar (at ISU) and the instructors' knowledge is superior," she said.

While information is still being added, the student-developed social media website is available at

Photo: - Roseanne Fairchild, assistant professor of advanced practice nursing at Indiana State University, presents nurse practitioner Andrea Underwood with her doctoral hood in a special ceremony during the American Nursing Informatics Association's national conference May 4, 2013 in San Antonio. Underwood was unable to participate in Indiana State's spring commencement because she was presenting at the conference.

Contact: Roseanne Fairchild, assistant professor of advanced practice nursing, Indiana State University, 317-519-9875 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or