By Genevra Pittman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Babies were more likely to have all of their recommended well-child visits when parents accessed their health records online, in a new study.
At one of two healthcare locations offering the online access, researchers also found a link between parents logging on and kids being up to date on their vaccines.
The records included post-visit instructions from doctors, immunization records and tools to manage future appointments.
"Parents are very busy, and sometimes it's hard to remember to take their child in to see their doctor, particularly when they are healthy. I think a tool like personal health records can help," said Dr. Jeffrey Tom.
He led the study at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research-Hawaii.
The researchers used data from Kaiser Permanente Hawaii and Kaiser Permanente Northwest based in Portland, Oregon, where all patients have online access to their medical records.
They matched about 1,400 babies whose parents used at least one feature of the online records system for their child with the same number whose parents didn't go online.
By the time babies were 15 months old, they were more likely to have gone to at least six well-child visits if their parents accessed the health records.
Ninety percent of babies in Hawaii and 82 percent in the Northwest system whose parents logged on had gone to all of their recommended visits. That compared to 84 percent in Hawaii and 64 percent in the Northwest when parents didn't use the site.
In the Northwest but not Hawaii, children were also more likely to have all of their recommended vaccines by age two if their parents had logged on to the health records.
Seventy-seven percent of toddlers with logged-on parents in the Northwest system were up to date on their vaccines, compared to 72 percent of other kids.
The researchers reported their findings in The Journal of Pediatrics.
They couldn't tell for sure whether using the health records helped parents remember to bring their child in to the doctor.
Another possible explanation is that parents who were proactive enough to use the site were also the most likely to be on top of their child's healthcare.
Still, the online health record "appears to be a very useful tool if parents or patients use it," Tom told Reuters Health.
Zsolt Nagykaldi said health organizations are starting to use different types of online records systems that patients can access.
How useful those records are will depend on the type of information they contain and how they are integrated into standard care, he said.
Nagykaldi has studied personal health records at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City but was not involved in the new research. He said Kaiser Permanente's system takes a "comprehensive approach."
"It is an important step forward for the parent to be able to have access to their (child's) complete immunization record and that makes it more likely to help them go and receive those immunizations that are recommended," Nagykaldi told Reuters Health.
He said researchers need to learn ways to reach out to people who aren't as good with technology to encourage them to use online records when they're available.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/GPN7TV The Journal of Pediatrics, online October 11, 2013.