ICHP Assistant Director’s Research Team Termed “Leaders” in Recent Journal of Adolescent Health Editorial

Lindsay Thompson’s innovative efforts to launch an accessible and confidential patient portal for adolescents and their parents have garnered her team national recognition as “leaders in this space” in a recent editorial in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Patient portals provide online access to health care providers and health information, such as diagnoses and lab results, and have the potential to help advance adolescents’ health. The key issue is balancing parental access to some of their children’s information while still preserving the teen’s confidentiality as a patient, which is protected under state law.

“Adolescents stand to gain so much from patient portals, including potentially life-saving health information, as well as avenues for empowerment, including the ability to engage health care providers directly as advocates for their own care,” said Lindsay Thompson, M.D., M.S., assistant director of clinical research for the Institute for Child Health Policy and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics. “We just have to balance that potential with concerns about privacy and decisions about what, precisely, parents should have access to.”

For instance, an adolescent’s diagnosis with a sexually transmitted infection is protected in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., which would require that type of diagnosis to remain confidential within the portal. However, it could be beneficial for parents to be able to request appointments, examine upcoming required vaccinations, and discuss non-confidential aspects of their child’s care with health care providers within the portal.

Many health care systems have been unable to strike that balance with their patient portals and instead choose to deactivate key aspects, which excludes parents and their adolescents from the benefits of having digital access to their health information and care providers, due to the cost of implementation. This is especially problematic given the digital fluency of most adolescents and their increasing access to digital devices.

“A few institutions have emerged as leaders in this space by taking on the onerous task of providing access to both parents and teens,” wrote Carolyn Bradner Jasik, M.D. in the recent JAH editorial that highlights the team’s work. “This approach not only satisfies…requirements, but it also unlocks a new avenue to reach parents and teens.” The study by Thompson et al. in this issue of Journal of Adolescent Health is among the first to report the large-scale implementation of a patient portal that provides access to both parents and teens while still preserving confidentiality.”

The article not only details how a confidential and accessible portal for adolescents and their parents was built and implemented at all three of UF Health’s primary care clinics, but it also provides preliminary information about teen usage rates and habits within the portal, providing critical insight into what other institutions should focus on in building their own portals for accessing electronic health records (EHR).

“After several years of published critiques on the limitations of EHRs for adolescent health care, it is refreshing to see data demonstrating the realistic potential of the patient portal to advance adolescent health. …[R]equirements aside, engaging adolescents in their health care via technology is long overdue,” Bradner Jasik continued. “Mobile health technology can extend our reach into the community to meet youth where they are in a way that they understand. There is potential for health education, support for care transitions for chronically ill teens, risk behavior screens, promotion of healthy behaviors, and confidential messaging.”

Read the entire editorial here, and read the full article here.