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Debra Ness's picture

It’s back-to-school time, and busy parents are trying to cross everything off their seemingly endless checklists before the first day of school. One thing on many of those lists? Physicals and vaccinations.

Many schools and sports programs require proof of children’s vaccinations and physician visits before they step back into the classroom or onto the field, and it can be a hassle to keep track of which vaccines children got or when they had their last physical exams. Having to coordinate with doctors’ offices to get signed authorizations and pick up forms in person can add even more stress to the mix.

That’s where technology comes in. Increasingly today, online patient portals, secure emails with health care providers, and apps that help you store and organize health data can help parents and caregivers quickly access, download and share up-to-date health records for their kids.

Easy access to electronic health data  can be even more valuable for parents in the “sandwich generation” – those who care for older relatives with multiple health needs and an array of health care providers, at the same time they care for their kids. Doing all that while holding down a job is stressful, and tools that can ease that stress are badly needed.

Unfortunately, it’s still too difficult for people to get and use their own medical records and other health information. That’s why a diverse group of patient advocates launched the Get My Health Data campaign in July. The campaign aims to support family caregivers, patients – and all of us – in asking for, getting and effectively using our digital health data.

Almost every other industry – banking, travel, retail, education – gives customers powerful tools to manage their lives online. But technology is not where it should be in health care and that’s a problem for all of us.

So what can you do? To start, ask your family physician or child’s pediatrician if they have an online patient portal and if so, how to sign up. You can likely sign up from any computer. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be able to log in, view and possibly even download and send the necessary records directly to your child’s school or team. Having the records in one place will make it easier to see when the next vaccination or visit is due and to plan ahead.

If your pediatrician doesn’t have a patient portal, you can request copies of your child’s records and use other online tools to organize it yourself. You can find detailed information on the ways to request your child’s records at

Once you’ve taken action to get your health data, share your story with us; we’re striving to understand how parents are navigating this process and the impact getting their data may have on their busy lives.

Then, take a deep breath: You’ve crossed another thing off your checklist and positioned yourself to save time in the future. Enjoy those last few days of summer!

More information about the Get My Health Data campaign is at   

Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

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