Teens May Lack Access to Confidential Health Care
February 27, 2003
Teenagers seeking confidential medical help may find their primary care doctor cannot agree to keep their treatment secret, according to a survey. Even if a doctor's office does supply confidential treatment, office staff may incorrectly tell teens that such treatment is not available.Adapted from:
"Teenagers may not go to get care for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases if they think their parents are going to find out, and that's why the professional medical organizations have always had the position that this care should be available on a confidential basis for teenagers," said Dr. Lara J. Akinbami, a study author with the National Center for Health Statistics. Akinbami conducted the study with colleagues while at the Children's National Medical Center at Georgetown University. The full report, "Availability of Adolescent Health Services and Confidentiality in Primary Care Practices," was published in Pediatrics (2003;111:394-401).
All 50 states entitle adolescents to consent for medically emancipated conditions, which include contraception, pregnancy, diagnosis and treatment of STDs, substance abuse problems and mental health. The authors noted that teens considered mature enough to consent to care have the right to confidentiality.
The researchers called primary care, pediatrics and family practice offices in the Washington, D.C., area and followed up with a written survey sent to doctors. Personnel who answered the phone were asked if adolescents could get a pelvic exam, access to contraceptives and STD testing without parental knowledge of the visit. In 45-63 percent of the practices surveyed, office staff answering the phones contradicted the doctor's written responses to the questions. Of the 170 medical offices that responded to the surveys, only 92 offered services for medically emancipated conditions.
"Information teenagers receive about confidentiality when trying to schedule an appointment may be a deciding factor in whether to seek health care," the researchers wrote. Akinbami said that teens are probably going to public clinics or Planned Parenthood, places that guarantee confidentiality, instead of seeing their family doctor. The researchers recommend that more doctors develop written policies on confidential medical services for adolescents, and that everyone in the office be trained to respond to teenagers' questions.
02.24.03; Stephanie Riesenman
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.