Letter of the Week: Teens need doctor-patient privilege
Published: Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 at 4:05 p.m.
Doctor-patient privilege is one of the most valued assets of the doctor-patient relationship, yet when it comes to teens, parents and doctors drop the ball.
There is a downside to denying adolescents this fundamental right. Studies have shown that 14-year-olds have the ability to make medical decisions at adult levels. Denying teens this right can prove detrimental to their health and well being.
Teens are risk takers during this period of emotional turmoil and rapid body changes, and some of these behaviors can have permanent negative consequences in their lives. Consequences of risky behaviors include sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy.
These long-term consequences can be avoided through preventative care, offered in an accepting and confidential environment.
The World Health Organization has identified lack of confidentiality as a barrier to adolescents seeking health care. Every major professional society with expertise in adolescent health supports adolescent confidentiality as the standard of care.
Our federal government protects the adolescentís right to control their reproduction through free and confidential family planning. Services are made available through Title X funded sites such as the health department, and through Medicaid.
When minors feel assured that they will get confidential care, they are more likely to seek it. As physicians we encourage open communication between teens and their parents. At the same time, we do not want teens to forgo care because they fear the consequences of their parents learning about their medical visit.
A recent study found that 54 percent of parents support confidentiality for their teens. However, parents educated about the need for privacy and the clinicís policy on confidentiality are even more likely to be supportive.
Physicians need to do their part by increasing awareness and opening the lines of communication. Parents need to grant adolescents privacy at the doctorís office.
Bahareh Keith, M.D.,
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