November 4, 2010

Project seeks to boost use of MyHealth portal by parents

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JoAnn Wolak, L.P.N., demonstrates the ease with which parents can log on to MyHealth at Vanderbilt. (Photo by Susan Urmy)

Project seeks to boost use of MyHealth portal by parents

Francisco Galan can schedule a doctor's appointment, ask a medical question or find out test results without picking up a phone.

Galan uses his computer to manage his and his 14-year-old son's health needs on MyHealth at Vanderbilt, a secure online portal where patients access their medical records. Best of all, Galan eliminates an all-too-common game of phone tag.

Galan is one of many success stories that a new outreach project at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt hopes to highlight to entice doctors, nurses and families to connect to MyHealth. The system gives families portable access to records and allows them to be active in their children's care. Also, doctors and nurses are freed up, away from phones, to do other work.

“If I have a question about my son and I call, most of the time the doctor is busy, and it isn't always that easy to get in touch with him,” Galan said. “I really like MyHealth because I can e-mail the doctor.”

While Vanderbilt's electronic health records system has been popular among adult patients, attracting more than 110,000 online users, parents have been slow to sign up their children. The young patients, from birth to age 18, make up about 7,600 user accounts to date, up from about 1,300 child patients in 2007.

MyHealth, accessed with a username and password, launched more than six years ago as a way for doctors and patients to communicate. Features added later let patients view basic lab results, request appointments, and for adults, pay bills online. Parents will be able to pay children's bills online in early 2011.

“It's a great way for patients to communicate with us,” said JoAnn Wolak, L.P.N., project lead for the MyHealth implementation for Children's Hospital. “They can send a request for a prescription refill in the middle of the night, and in the morning, there is a message from a physician or nurse that it has been filled.”

Amy Potter, M.D., who specializes in Pediatric Endocrinology, tries to remind her patients to enroll in MyHealth, which she enjoys using as a doctor and a patient.

“I can send a message, which they can read later, without repeatedly trying to call,” Potter said.

Wolak's task is to ramp up awareness about MyHealth at Children's Hospital.

She helped design a yearlong pilot in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, which had high call volume, to increase sign ups among families and get feedback from doctors and nurses. Staff encouraged parents to begin the sign-up process in the office, and alerted them to certain policies, including the requirement that children age 13-17 give permission for their parents to access their accounts.

The initiative tackled common misconceptions among staff that include: worry that patients would see too much of their records; belief that messaging violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; and perceptions that MyHealth consumes more of their time — none of which were true.

Gastroenterology saw a 25 percent increase in patient sign-ups, and a 40 percent decrease in phone triage, said Sean Rodriguez, manager of pediatric specialty clinics.

At the same time, Gastroenterology saw a 17 percent decrease in patient complaints.

“Nurses are not playing phone tag. They read an online message, talk to the physician and send an e-mail response,” said Rodriguez, who noted that staff satisfaction increased. “This is where health care is headed. Features are only going to continue to be added to the system.”

Doctors and nurses can offer parents a paper application during office visits, and then direct them to complete the registration online at