Survey: Incarcerated Teens Eager for Online Health Records

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Young people who get in trouble with the law and who may move around frequently, often have trouble accessing and sharing accurate, up-to-date versions of their medical records. As a result, they don’t always get the vaccinations they need nor the follow-up care they require to manage chronic conditions like asthma, sexually transmitted diseases, and mental health or substance abuse issues.

Allowing young people to access their medical histories in a digital format through the Internet could solve this problem, researchers hope. Under federal reforms to the health care system, more and more medical practitioners are switching to electronic recordkeeping, and according to a study released in October by the journal Pediatrics, incarcerated teenagers appeared surprisingly open to the idea.

Researchers from the Stanford University medical school and the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center interviewed 79 incarcerated young people who came to the medical center for treatment. About 90 percent of the young people surveyed said that it would be very useful to have their medical records online so they could look at them later. About half said they would like their parents to see them, and most said they would share them with their doctors.

The “digital divide” that some skeptics said would make online records unhelpful for incarcerated teens did not materialize, researchers found. Incarcerated young people appeared technologically savvy, listing cell phones and home computers as their primary ways of accessing the Internet.

Some 87 percent of the youth said they went online at least once a week when they weren’t in detention, a rate in line with their peers outside the juvenile justice system.

“Things have shifted; the digital divide still exists between older individuals of different backgrounds, but among adolescents there is a high rate of tech access, even for the most underserved,” Stanford medical student Gregory Gaskin, who co-wrote the paper, said in a news release about the study.

Dr. Arash Anoshiravani, the senior author of the paper and the medical director of the Santa Clara County Juvenile Custody Institutions, said further research was required to actually test the use of electronic records with young people in trouble with the law. The biggest challenge, he said, was figuring out privacy controls so that parents or other parties could see only part of the records and not all of them.

“It’s very difficult right now to meet the spirit and letter of the law around confidential health information in the areas of reproductive and mental health for adolescent patients,” Anoshiravani said in a news release.

Photo by San José Library via Flickr. 

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