Tech gap exists between parents, children's doctors

Many parents say online communication would help in facilitating their children's care, but few practices offer that access.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted May 31, 2010

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More than 50% of parents say they would like access to e-mail or Internet communication with their children's physician. But fewer than one in six report that they have it.

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, funded by the University of Michigan Dept. of Pediatrics and Communicable Disease, and Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit, asked 1,612 parents about electronic communication with their children's doctors.

Fewer than 15% said they use e-mail or the Internet for clinical actions with the physicians, such as prescription refills, lab results, or advice on minor illnesses or injury. And fewer than 10% of parents reported using e-mail or the Internet for handling administrative tasks, such as scheduling an appointment or obtaining an immunization record.

The report's authors say that although health reform has promoted use of electronic medical records, little attention has been paid to understanding if patients and parents have an interest in, or access to, electronic methods for interacting with doctors.

"Electronic communication between parents and their children's health care providers offers a lot of potential benefits," said Matthew Davis, MD, director of the poll. Dr. Davis is associate professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases in the CHEAR Unit of the University of Michigan Medical School.

"For administrative tasks that almost all parents need to complete, electronic communication can reduce wasted time and minimize frustration for both parents and office staff. For clinical services, parents often have questions about whether minor injuries or illnesses require an office visit; electronic communication provides a way to obtain advice without waiting on hold for long periods of time," Dr. Davis said in a statement.

Authors of the report noted that there were challenges for physicians to adopt these technologies.

They wrote that doctors had medical liability concerns about offering medical advice without an exam. Additional concerns related to not getting paid for online activities.

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What parents want -- and what they get

In a recent poll, parents said they want more online communication with their children's doctors. Fewer than 10% of parents said the practice allows administrative tasks, such as appointment scheduling, electronically.

Can do Would be helpful to do
Administrative actions
Schedule an appointment 9% 40%
Obtain child's immunization record 9% 55%
Complete checklist/screening form before a well-child visit 6% 46%
Clinical actions
Request prescription refill 11% 55%
Get advice regarding a minor illness or injury 14% 47%
Obtain lab results 6% 53%

Source: " 'ePediatrics': Parents Want More Communication With Their Kids' Doctors," C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, May 17 (link)

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