A new review of existing research and expert opinions suggest that there are many benefits to allowing adolescents to review their own health information online and to send messages to their doctors.
Few teens have online health access, however, and questions exist about privacy and the kinds of information that parents will be able to view.
"There are going to be some issues in trying to make this work for adolescents and yet still respect confidentiality," said lead author Megan Moreno, an assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin Madison. "Our hope was to get that conversation started."
While many doctors' offices have not computerized patient medical records, some make individual information available to patients through password-protected Web sites. It is rare, however, for children to be able to access their records.
In the new review, Moreno and colleagues examined 39 research papers that mentioned online health information access for teens. They also interviewed 11 doctors, three administrators, three attorneys and a health-policy legislative specialist. The findings of the review appear online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The researchers report that online health access for adolescents could improve their knowledge about health issues, particularly by exposing them to accurate medical information.
Adolescents might also learn how to take responsibility for their own care, develop better relationships with their doctors and do a better job of controlling chronic conditions.
On the other hand, online access raises questions about confidentiality. "There are certain aspects that can and should remain confidential, such as sexual health, concerns about substance use and mental health," Moreno said.
Teens should be included as health systems put medical records online, said Jonathan Klein, M.D., acting chief of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of Rochester, in New York.
"Our care system must grow to be available and accessible in the way teens and young adults want information and interactivity," said Klein, who is familiar with the findings of the new review.
"The integration of technology into care is inevitable," he said. "We can either learn to be part of this or we and institutions that do not change will be left behind in meeting the needs of adolescents and their families."