Pediatricians recognize the transitional bridge between childhood and adulthood as a critical time in development to pave the way for long-term health.
During adolescence, teens are less likely to visit their doctor for preventive care and counseling – and yet these are critical years to benefit from a physician’s support and guidance.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes the special health challenges of adolescence, which is a time of change – physical, cognitive and emotional – that is a normal part of development, with a policy statement, “Unique Needs of the Adolescent,” published in the December 2019 Pediatrics. The statement emphasizes the need for preventive care and counseling for adolescents, who are more prone to engage in risky behaviors as they push toward autonomy.
“It’s really important to have ongoing conversations with young patients and become a trusted source for help, especially with health issues that might be sensitive, such as sexuality, substance use or mental health concerns,” said Elizabeth M. Alderman, MD, FSAHM, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement and chair of the AAP Committee on Adolescence.
“Research tells us that teens who go untreated for specific health needs will often experience poor health in adulthood and have a lower quality of life, overall.”
One study found that 71% of adolescents reported at least one potential health risk, yet only 37 % of the teenagers reported discussing any of these risks with their pediatrician or primary care provider.
AAP recommendations include:
Screening and counseling centered on behaviors that can lead to illness or death in teens. About 72% of deaths among adolescents are attributed to injuries from motor vehicle crashes; other unintentional or intentional injuries; injuries caused by firearms; injuries influenced by the use of alcohol and illicit substances; or homicide or suicide.
Educational programs and financial compensation for pediatricians and health care professionals to support them in providing evidence-based quality primary care for adolescents.
Pediatrician training on how to maintain the clinical setting as a “safe space,” particularly in terms of confidentiality, especially when working with LGBTQ adolescents.
Further education, training, and advocacy for mental health care services for adolescents.
Supporting school nurses and school-based health centers to promote healthy adolescent development and access to health care.
The AAP also addresses the need for additional research on the unique needs of adolescents and provides strategies to improve financing for the health care of adolescents.
The policy statement includes a list of online resources that cover mental health, substance use, confidentiality, sexual and reproductive health, and physical and psychosocial health. This policy complements existing AAP policy statements, including “Confidentiality Protections for Adolescents and Young Adults in the Health Care Billing and Insurance Claims Process,” and “Office-Based Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth.”
“A pediatrician can provide unbiased help with teen issues that families might be struggling with, such as explaining why sleep is so important and the potential risks of vaping or alcohol use,” said Cora C. Breuner, MD, MPH, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement.
“We want to get adolescents off to a great start as they move toward adulthood, offering medical and mental health attention, prevention and support.”
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org: