Parental Patient Portal Use Rate in Pediatrics Lower than 50%

Parents or caregivers who do use the patient portal use it for appointment scheduling, to view test results, and to complete pre-visit forms.

Only around 43 percent of parents or guardians use the patient portal to manage their child’s health, representing a pretty serious lapse in patient engagement, according to a new survey from the University of Michigan Health.

Parents who didn’t use the patient portal for their kids’ health said they didn’t think they needed it, weren’t aware it needed to be set up, or preferred a different form of patient-provider communication, the survey of over 2,000 parents and guardians said.

These sentiments are counter to the experiences of those who actually do use the patient portal in pediatrics. Around a third of parents who did report using the technology said they were able to get advice about their child’s well-being using the tool. The advice came in a timely manner from the provider the parent or guardian anticipated.

The researchers said these findings indicate that parents and guardians need more education and messaging about the patient portal.

“Patient portals offer a wide range of benefits, including decreasing unnecessary hassles for providers and patients and improving access to both the medical staff and a child’s medical information,” Sarah Clark, MPH, co-director of the poll, said in a statement.

“Given all the conveniences portals offer, it’s surprising that over half of parents have not set one up for their child, most commonly because they don’t see a need for it. This report suggests many parents may not be aware of all the potential benefits of using a patient portal for children.”

This is particularly salient considering the limited emphasis parents placed on data privacy and security. Patient privacy was not among the top reasons parents did not use the patient portal, the researchers said, indicating that patient education and messaging are paramount.

“Our poll suggests that pediatric health providers should continue efforts to inform families about the benefits of patient portals, and parents who haven’t set one up should take steps to learn more about portal advantages and how to establish one for their child,” Clark said.

Parents and guardians who said they use the patient portal indicated that the technology has a lot of applications for managing their child’s health. For example, parents said they used the patient portal for appointment scheduling, to view test results, to complete pre-visit forms, and to request prescription refills.

Those uses mirror how many adults use their own patient portals to manage their own health, but in pediatrics, there are other applications that are unique to a child’s needs.

For example, some parents said they use the technology to retrieve vaccination history or copies of the child’s most recent physical, two things that might be necessary for school or participation in sports, clubs, or camps. Others have accessed telehealth via the patient portal.

As pediatric healthcare providers consider strategies to increase parental use of the patient portal, they should also consider how to manage their own workloads. The researchers indicated that this should start with managing parent expectations for patient portal messaging.

Currently, a third of parents who use the patient portal do not receive guidance about how they can expect their provider to interact with them over the tool.

“Instructions from the practice on how to optimize portal benefits appear to be the key to helping parents use it effectively and appropriately and increase families’ satisfaction with the experience,” Clark advised.

Moreover, providers need to outline how patient portal privacy changes over time with a pediatric patient. As kids age into adolescence, they should take on more ownership of their healthcare, and with that comes the health technologies that support it.

Specifically, many confidentiality laws require healthcare providers to restrict how much health information a parent can access via the portal and instead grants the teenager sole access to that kind of information. Health data subject to confidentiality for teens include information about sexual and reproductive health, mental health, or substance use.

Around a third of parents with an older child have noticed these restrictions. However, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of parents said they think they should have unfettered access to this information until the child turns 18. Although some healthcare organizations allow teens to opt into sharing all health information with their parents or guardians, Clark outlined the benefits of kids being autonomous in those decisions.

“Portal limitations are designed to protect the confidentiality of adolescent health care,” Clark said. “Before parents insist their teen give them portal access, or they attempt to get around portal limitations, parents should first consider the implications of their child being reluctant to seek confidential healthcare services.

“There are also potential benefits of teens actively participating in their own care and taking ownership of their health by learning to interact with providers via the portal.”

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