Many of us are clueless about the valuable information contained in our children’s medical records. Knowing what’s there can help us make smart decisions; not knowing can leave us navigating in the dark. Getting ahold of your child’s records has never been easier – or more important. It’s powerful knowledge anytime, and all the more so during the holiday travel season when you might be seeing an unfamiliar face in a clinic or ER.
Here are five things I think parents should look for in their children’s medical record and have at their fingertips:
1. BMI Percent – Parents are often stunningly wrong about whether or not their children are at a healthy weight, highlighted by a study released December 2011 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. We are so familiar with our kids – and so many of their peers are overweight – that they often look normal to us even when they are not. And more than 75% of parents of overweight children aged 2 to 15 report never being told the child is overweight by the pediatrician – it can be uncomfortable to talk about and difficult to hear.
But childhood obesity is the great epidemic of our time, one of the biggest threats to our kids’ health. What’s a parent to do?
Know your child’s BMI Percent. The Body Mass Index is a calculation that looks at appropriate weight for height for a given age and gender. If children’s BMI is below the 5th percentile, they are likely underweight. If they are at the 85th percentile or above, they are likely to be overweight. Above the 95th percentile? Obese. Knowledge is the first step toward health.
2. Trends – Even more important than where your child’s health is right now, in many cases, is what trends are emerging. Is your child’s BMI percent going up, going down, or stable? Is your child developing at an expected rate or falling behind in an area? It’s far easier to correct a problem before it crosses the line to a diagnosis.
In order to follow trends, you need to either get a copy of your child’s growth chart every time you visit the doctor, do the measurements and tracking yourself, or use a simple tool like MotherKnows.com*. It’s a great way to keep track of your child’s medical record with the added advantage of being able to carry it with you via smart phone App so you can access your child’s record any where you are and even log your comments and notes from a doctor visit.
3. Medication History and Allergies – It’s important to know what medications your child is taking now, but it’s also important to know what medications have been used in the past – which ones worked, which ones didn’t and what side effects your child had to each. Most parents can’t remember all this data, but your child’s medical record should include all the medications she’s ever been prescribed and any side effects or allergies that you’ve reported to her doctor.
Having this information is especially important when your child is traveling. If she gets sick while away from home, the doctor she sees most likely will not have access to her medical record. By having information about immunizations, past medications, allergies and side effects, you can help the doctor make a plan that works.
4. Look for Patterns – If your child has recurring health problems, look for when the problems occur and what else was happening at the time. Perhaps your child has more coughs than her peers. When did they start? Right after visits to grandparents? Perhaps your little one is allergic to grandma’s cat or perhaps grandpa has started smoking again without letting you know. Or does congestion coincide with the start of school and let up over long breaks? Perhaps your child has a problem with the cleaners used in the classroom or is in a classroom with poor ventilation so she’s constantly breathing “airplane air”. Just by looking at the records you can often see patterns you might not notice another way.
5. Look for What’s Next – You child’s records can also be a roadmap, to help you see where you are and what’s around the bend. Whether we’re considering fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills, speech, or physical growth, knowing where your child is on the road helps you know them better, and select toys and activities that will delight them on the cutting edge of their development. And you’ll know when to contact your doctor between scheduled visits if things aren’t going as expected.
Plus, you won’t need to call your doctor’s office and wait on hold to find out things like the next time your child is due for a routine physical or screening test.
You wouldn’t think of trying to manage your finances without having easy access to your bank records. If we want to protect and cultivate our children’s health, taking advantage of access to their health records is a great place to start.
Dr. Alan Greene is a practicing pediatrician, the author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green, and the founder of DrGreene.com. He is also on the Board of Directors of Healthy Child Healthy World, The Society for Participatory Medicine, and is the Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board for MotherKnows.com.