Teen Healthcare Needs More Than a Phase

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

While the teen years are among the healthiest in a person’s life, behavior choices during that period result in relatively high mortality and morbidity rates for this age group. To quote just one sobering statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , more than 5 million of all young people in the United States under age 18 will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease. But when’s the last time your pediatrician asked your teen what they say when someone offers them a cigarette?

Posing these types of questions to the teen set is likely to open a dialogue on behavior choices, says the Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM), but most doctors treating this population don’t have the time or the skill set to do so. So putting aside for a moment the recent research blaming brain development rather than raging hormones for teen behavior, it’s gratifying to see more doctors are choosing adolescent medicine as a sub-specialty.

According to Robert T. Brown, SAM president-elect and chief of adolescent health at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, nearly 1,000 doctors have been certified in the subspecialty of adolescent medicine since 1994. Brown was interviewed in a recent Newsweek magazine article.

According to its website, SAM is a multi-disciplinary organization of health professionals committed to enhancing access to high quality health care for adolescents by supporting the training of all health professionals who care for adolescents. The website even offers a resource for locating an adolescent health professional.

SAM hopes that by highlighting this need and providing training and role models, their specialists will pass on their methods to many more doctors. Most teens are currently seen by pediatricians trained to address the needs of infants and small children, or family practitioners who interact chiefly with older patients. Both specialists are generally overworked and don’t have the time to delve into the social issues that might affect a teenaged patient. Arming these specialists with teen-friendly tools like tips for talking with adolescents about sensitive issues such as drinking, drugs, sex and violence might get more mileage out of physician-teen visits during this transitional developmental phase.

This age-based approach makes sense. Having helped my teenager through a lingering illness over the last year, I have spent more time than usual in our pediatrician’s offices. While the level of care and concern was outstanding, the décor and information is largely geared to infants and children. My teen has long since outgrown the plastic play tables and is no more interested in reading Highlights magazine than I am. However, we expect to visit this office for at least a few more years.

Nobody said the teenage years would be easy. But having a doctor who considers the emotions, pressures and stresses of this age in an overall healthcare approach is a step in the right direction.

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One Response to “Teen Healthcare Needs More Than a Phase”

  1. Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.