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Learning to Use the Health Care System

Preventive health care visits offer an ideal opportunity to help teens begin to learn how to navigate the health care system. Adolescents need opportunities to gain a better understanding of their own health and to learn what happens during health care appointments. Many health care providers try to do several things as adolescents grow and become young adults. Some clinics and offices are making their practices more “teen friendly” so that teens feel welcome. Providing teens confidential, one-on-one time with health care providers—in addition to time together with parents or guardians and providers—is a practice widely considered a general standard of care.1 Teens are far more likely to be forthcoming with questions regarding sensitive topics such as drug use, mental health concerns, or sexual activity when alone with health care providers.2 One study concluded that only 40 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 reported having private time with their health care provider at their last visit,3 and Hispanic and low-income adolescents were even less likely to receive private time than other teens.3

Receiving regular health care at the same primary care facility will introduce teens to the concept of having a medical home, or a regular source of health care that is accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-centered, coordinated, compassionate and culturally effective.4 The goal of having a medical home is to improve the quality of health care a teen receives.


1 Ford, C., English, A., & Sigman, G. (2004). Confidential health care for adolescents: Position paper for the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(2): 160–167.
2 Lawrence, R. S., Gootman J. A., & Sim, L. J. (Eds.). (2009.) Adolescent health services: Missing Opportunities. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
3 Irwin, C. E. Jr., Adams, S. H., Park, M. J., & Newacheck, P.W. (2009.) Preventive care for adolescents: few get visits and fewer get services. Pediatrics, 123(4): e565-72. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19336348
4 American Academy of Pediatrics, Medical Home Initiatives for Children with Special Needs Project Advisory Committee. (2002). The Medical Home. Pediatrics, 110(1). Retrieved December 19, 2016, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/110/1/184
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on April 16, 2018