How Do Adolescents Access Health Information?

Spring 2012 - Volume 16 Number 2

Dear Editors:

Re: Ettel G III, Nathanson I, Ettel D, Wilson C, Meola P. How Do Adolescents Access Health Information? And Do They Ask Their Physicians? Perm J 2012 Winter;16(1):35-8.

As a Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecologist I have struggled with the fact that the electronic medical record (EMR) cannot be accessed by adolescents. I worked at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center for 14 years and am now at Group Health in Washington State using the Epic EMR. I am quite frustrated by the fact that my teenage patients cannot exchange e-mails with me regarding their care.

I assume that federal law prohibits teenagers ages 12 to 18 (and their parents) from accessing their results and using the e-mail function of the EMR because it applies in both California and Washington. I am sure this was a well-intentioned idea to protect adolescents and help keep their parents in the loop, but restricting electronic access to physicians only adds a barrier to access of high-quality medical care and advice. I have to resort to playing phone tag via cell phone with all of my teenage patients—or worse, texting—this is inefficient and inadequate.

I agree that teenagers should speak with their parents first and keep them in the loop regarding health matters, but the reality is that some teenagers are not comfortable doing this. Then where do they turn? I think most parents, myself included, would prefer that their teenage sons and daughters get advice from a responsible adult who can be trusted to protect their best interests, ie, their physician, rather than seeking advice from the Internet, their friends, or on the "street."

It is my hope that the laws regarding adolescent access to their own physician via EMR e-mail will be reevaluated and changed so that this important and vulnerable group of patients can communicate in a manner we know they are comfortable using with a responsible adult who can be trusted to give appropriate advice and care in health-related matters: their physician.

Diana Currie, MD
Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology; Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Group Health Cooperative, Olympia Washington


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