Gordon DeFriese on US kids’ health care

An April 2011 report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine has found gaps in what we know about the health care services for children in America.

An April 2011 report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine has found gaps in what we know about health care services for children in America.

Gordon DeFriese is a health researcher with the University of North Carolina and chaired the committee on the child health care services report. He told EarthSky:

We reviewed literally hundreds of measures, reporting systems, registry systems, survey documents, etc., mostly collected by the federal government, but some by state governments.

We came to the conclusion that overall, our current measures do not really allow us to do the most useful analyses of the extent to which children and adolescents in the United States are healthy or are receiving high-quality health care.

DeFriese said there are problems with the patchwork system of keeping track of kids’ health records in the U.S. Image Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

That’s because, DeFriese said, in the U.S. there are problems with the patchwork-like system of data used to keep track of things such as immunization records for kids. He said:

The problems that we looked at were things like the fragmentation of data sources, so that if you go to get an immunization, for example, as a child to a public health department or to your private physician, the records of your having received that immunization may or may not exist in any one location.

That fragmentation makes it difficult to get estimates of how many people are getting immunized and whether they’re getting the right vaccine, he said.

Dr. DeFriese added that nationally systematized record-keeping of a family’s background can help improve the health care kids receive.

We know that a lot of things about the health of families is just as important as anything in predicting the health of children. And yet we don’t have very many data sets in this country that speak in any way to the health of the mother, the father, other siblings, or the life circumstances in which these children are growing up.

What we need are some better measures, said DeFriese. They should be collected everywhere in exactly the same way, using the same measures in the same way. That would enable us to talk about these things comprehensively so that we understand each other and what we mean. He said:

We think that overall, there is a several-year effort ahead of us to address these kind of concerns, and we think the responsibility for this is best put in the office of the secretary of Health and Human Services. I’m hoping that people who read this, particularly those who are responsible for these data systems across the country, will find this a way of organizing their own efforts in order to get something done of great national significance.

To hear more from Dr. DeFriese about the recommendations of the April 2011 U.S. Institute of Medicine report on health care services for children in America, listen to the 8-minute EarthSky interview (at top of page.)

Jorge Salazar