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J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2018 Dec 1;25(12):1593-1599. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocy120.

Should parents see their teen's medical record? Asking about the effect on adolescent-doctor communication changes attitudes.

Author information

Department of Healthcare Policy & Research, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA.
School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.



Parents routinely access young children's medical records, but medical societies strongly recommend confidential care during adolescence, and most medical centers restrict parental records access during the teen years. We sought to assess public opinion about adolescent medical privacy.

Materials and Methods:

The Cornell National Social Survey (CNSS) is an annual nationwide public opinion survey. We added questions about a) whether parents should be able to see their 16-year-old child's medical record, and b) whether teens would avoid discussing sensitive issues (sex, alcohol) with doctors if parents could see the record. Hypothesizing that highlighting the rationale for adolescent privacy would change opinions, we conducted an experiment by randomizing question order.


Most respondents (83.0%) believed that an adolescent would be less likely to discuss sensitive issues with doctors with parental medical record access; responses did not differ by question order (P = .29). Most also believed that parents should have access to teens' records, but support for parental access fell from 77% to 69% among those asked the teen withholding question first (P = .01).


Although medical societies recommend confidential care for adolescents, public opinion is largely in favor of parental access. A brief "nudge," asking whether parental access might harm adolescent-doctor communication, increased acceptance of adolescent confidentiality, and could be part of a strategy to prepare parents for electronic patient portal policies that medical centers impose at the beginning of adolescence.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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