For Teens, Privacy May Trump Health Care

If teens' desires for health care privacy aren't respected, their care could be compromised, a new study suggests. Teens are cautious about revealing sensitive information to health care providers for fear of being judged, and are reluctant to talk to unfamiliar or multiple medical staff, according to researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The researchers conducted 12 focus groups for 54 teenagers and found that keeping health care information private was their most important issue. They also found that younger teens were more likely than older adolescents to want parental involvement.

In fact, some older adolescents said they might avoid a health care visit to prevent information being shared with their parents. Among the other findings:

* Teens of all ages said they would not discuss sensitive topics with health care providers if they thought the provider would judge them or "jump to conclusions."
* Younger teens said they did not have personal discussions with providers they didn't know or like, or if they believed the provider did not need to know the information.
* Only younger adolescents said they had concerns about violations of physical privacy.
* Kids with chronic illnesses better understood and accepted the need to share information with health care providers.

Doctors and other health care professionals need to make it as easy as possible for teens to share information, and need to respect their readiness or reluctance to disclose information, said lead author and adolescent medicine physician Dr. Maria Britto. "If the information isn't urgent, such as a routine health visit, providers may be better off waiting to ask sensitive questions until they know the teen better and can get better information once they've established trust," Britto said in a hospital news release.
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