April 9, 2014
Deerfield, IL — Use of electronic health records (EHRs) may improve healthcare accessibility, effectiveness and safety for all patients, but it can be a challenge to protect patient confidentiality and privacy. On March 19, 2014, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) issued a new position paper to illustrate best practices for designing and using EHRs to provide the best possible care for adolescent patients while addressing these privacy concerns. Overall, SAHM affirms that protecting adolescent confidentiality is a shared responsibility and requires ongoing vigilance.
An EHR is a record shared among many healthcare providers, of which all or part may also be accessed and used by the patient.
“Young people trust their healthcare providers with very sensitive information, such as family issues, substance use, mental health, and sexuality. Many currently available EHR systems are not designed to keep this private information private,” states Dr. Susan Hayden Gray, the lead author of the position statement. “Protection of adolescent confidentiality is a responsibility shared by EHR vendors, hospital and clinic administrators, clinicians, patients, and families.”
The desire for increased transparency and electronic access to health information should be counter-balanced by privacy protections to ensure access to appropriate confidential care for all patients, especially vulnerable adolescents. “Adolescents may forgo seeking health care or discussing health concerns if they do not believe their providers will keep private information confidential,” says Dr. Ryan H. Pasternak, an adolescent medicine specialist in New Orleans, LA, and chairperson of the committee that developed the paper. “SAHM is providing a framework for how to best design, use, and regulate EHR systems to ensure the best possible care and information is provided, while also protecting adolescent privacy and confidentiality. As the leading organization dedicated to the health of adolescents, SAHM has taken a strong stand on the unique issues affecting adolescent patients with ever-growing reliance upon electronic health records and related data sharing systems.”
The full position paper is published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health; a PDF is available for download. Highlighted positions within the paper include:
- The design and implementation of electronic health records need to take into account the special needs of adolescents for access to health information and the vigorous protection of confidentiality.
- EHR vendors need to ensure development of systems that meet regulatory requirements and address the privacy needs of all patients, including adolescents, by building robust, flexible, granular privacy settings into all aspects of their products.
- Healthcare systems implementing EHRs must train their employees in techniques to protect adolescents’ confidential information, in accordance with national and state/provincial laws, as well as institutional policies.
- Healthcare providers working with adolescents should advocate for specific adolescent privacy protections in the implementation of EHRs used within their clinics or institutions, as well as communicate their needs to EHR vendors.
- Healthcare providers should educate adolescents and their families on how to use an EHR, what information can be considered confidential, and ways to protect patient and family confidentiality when using or accessing EHRs.
To obtain more information or to speak to an expert, contact Justin Dreyfuss at SAHM headquarters, +1-847-753-5226 x351.
The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine is a multidisciplinary organization of health professionals who are committed to advancing the health and well-being of adolescents. Through education, research, clinical services and advocacy activities, members of SAHM strive to enhance public and professional awareness of adolescent health issues among families, educators, policy makers, youth-serving organizations, students who are considering a health career, as well as other health professionals. Learn more at www.adolescenthealth.org.