As the transformation of our world by digital technology continues, it is essential that college and university programs hosting minors on campus leverage technology to improve the flow of health information and do everything in their power to reduce unnecessary risk and liability. 

Given opportunities for serious mistakes and costly mishaps when hosting minors, youth programs and camps — including those run by higher education institutions — are adopting electronic health records (EHRs) now more than ever.

Technology has been successfully used in many industries to improve safety and decrease human error. In the youth program and camp setting, EHRs have the largest impact in three specific areas:

  • Collecting and reviewing health information
  • Administering medications
  • Tracking illnesses and injuries

Collecting and Reviewing Health Information

Paper records can be cumbersome, easily misplaced, and cannot be easily used for any meaningful decision analysis. Electronic health records offer complete documentation that is both legible and organized, making a youth program more efficient and helping staff avoid mistakes. An EHR system can guarantee that all crucial information is obtained and send automatic alerts to those who have missing information. EHRs maintain security and privacy, allowing only authorized staff to review individual health forms before the start of a program. Identifying and addressing medical concerns before youth arrive will help ensure a safe, healthy, and successful experience for everyone.

Administering Medications

Medication errors are the most common type of medical error and a significant cause of adverse health events in the pediatric population. Using EHRs, youth programs and camps eliminate the problem of illegible handwriting and transcription errors. An electronic medication administration record, or eMAR, can facilitate and simplify initial check-in and ensure safer and faster medication administration throughout the season. This technology aids staff in documenting when medications are given and will ensure that the “five rights” of medication administration are followed — right patient, right drug, right dose, right time, and right route.

Tracking Illnesses and Injuries

Tracking incident reports or visits to the clinic on paper can also be time-consuming and inefficient. With multiple user access and data entry, an EHR can improve the flow of daily clinic calls and, most importantly, enable meaningful use of the collected illness and injury data. An EHR enables staff to generate rapid reports and analyze medical data so they can eliminate risky situations from day-to-day activities. A nurse may analyze illness rates each week and uncover a gastrointestinal illness starting to spread throughout a program, while a director is able to review injury trends after each session to discover that a specific activity is the cause of many sprained ankles and more dangerous than they initially thought. EHRs can aid staff in their efforts to curb illness before it spreads and prevent future injuries from happening.

The less immediate and obvious benefits of electronic health records are just now coming to light as EHRs are being used to propel youth program medical research efforts. Recent studies have evaluated head lice, food allergies, and disaster and emergency preparedness at youth programs. With electronic epidemiologic data collected through EHRs , youth programs can now make informed decisions as they work to improve health and safety.

Adopting an EHR system at a youth program is not always an easy call. Every program, camp, and institution exploring an EHR should review their goals and needs to help guide decision-making and throughout the implementation process. It is important that every program assess their readiness to make the change from paper records to EHRs to ensure a successful transition.

Some helpful questions to consider before implementation are:

  • Are the program’s administrative processes organized, efficient, and well documented?
  • Are clinical workflows efficient, clearly mapped out, and understood by all staff?
  • Does the software meet the privacy and security requirements for your institution?

Change is not always easy, and current processes may actually become less efficient with an EHR implementation. Staff should be prepared and expect to change practices they may have had in place at their program for years to adopt new best practices with an EHR system. A designated leadership team and thoughtful implementation plan can help program staff more easily adapt to the new system.

Camps on Campus institutions provide amazing programs for youth — and the primary goal is always to ensure the health and safety of children while they are away from home. An EHR system does this by using every tool available. We have instant access to social media in our pockets and on our wrists, and with electronic health records, we have the ability to access up-to-the-minute patient data instantly as well. There is no doubt that EHRs can raise the standard and quality of care delivered at youth programs and camps. Relying on handwritten instructions is a thing of the past, and easy-to-use, intuitive tools to verify allergies and medications, review immunization records, and track illnesses and injuries are no longer a luxury but a necessity to make sure that we can keep everyone healthy and safe.

Dr. Michael Ambrose, founder and CEO of CampDoc, earned his MD from the University of Michigan Medical School and is a board-certified pediatrician. He has been involved in youth programs and camp health for more than 15 years. Having spent several summers in camp clinics, he remains devoted to the continual improvement of the camp industry and creating innovative solutions for youth programs.