Parents Want Online Communication With Pediatricians

While patients are pushing their doctors to use more e-mail and Web communications, the doctors are concerned about liability and reimbursement issues.
Much of the success of healthcare reform legislation will depend on how doctors and patients use information technology to update, store, and track medical information in real time. The Internet is expected to play a role in that process, yet the vast majority of parents aren't using the Internet to interact with their children's doctors, and that's something parents want to change, a new study finds.

Published last week, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health questioned 1,612 parents of children ages 0-17 about their online interactions with their children's healthcare providers. Parents were asked whether they felt online communications with doctors could improve their children's healthcare needs. The study found that 50% of parents said it would be very helpful to have electronic communications with their children's physicians.

In addition, 55% of respondents said it would be very helpful if they could obtain their child's immunization record, or request prescription refills through online communications with doctors.

Additionally, 53% of respondents said they would like to obtain lab results, 47% said they would like to get advice regarding a minor illness or injury, 46% said they would like to complete forms prior to a child's visit, and 40% said they want to schedule an appointment through online features offered by their child's doctor.

The report concluded that: "Electronic communication between parents and their children's healthcare providers offers numerous potential benefits. 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."

Nevertheless, online communications between parents and doctors is still in its infancy. The report noted that fewer than 15% of parents said they are currently able to use e-mail or the Internet to schedule appointments, receive immunization or lab records, complete screening forms, request prescription refills, or get medical advice.

The report also noted that there are barriers to electronic communications between parents and their children's doctors.

"Healthcare providers have expressed concerns about medical liability associated with offering clinical advice via e-mail or Internet, without examining the patient," the report said. "Additional provider concerns relate to reimbursement for services provided electronically. Given the strong endorsement for electronic communication from this national sample of parents, significant efforts should be made to address these challenges."

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