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May 2016: Adolescent Health Essential – Access to High-Quality, Teen-Friendly Health Care

TAG in Action: E-News

Adolescent Health Essential – Access to High-Quality, Teen-Friendly Health Care

Adolescents benefit from access to high-quality medical and dental care, mental and behavioral health services, and healthcare providers who understand and value adolescents. Teens are generally healthy, but adolescence is the time of life when bodies, minds, and emotions are changing and growing more rapidly than at any time other than infancy, and when guidance and interventions can really make a difference. That's why having access to high-quality, teen-friendly health care is one of the Five Essentials for Healthy Adolescents identified in the national call to action, Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow℠ (TAG).

High-Quality, Teen-Friendly Health Care: In Their Own Words

Surveys of adolescents have identified key characteristics of high-quality, teen-friendly health care:

  • Adolescents would like to access a range of health and social services at a single location.
  • Adolescents want to receive services in an inviting, culturally positive environment.
  • Long wait times and busy providers can make it hard for adolescents to receive necessary services, especially for older adolescents with significant work, school, and/or family responsibilities.
  • Adolescents would like to have multiple places within a community where they can obtain needed services.
  • Additionally, adolescents say it is important to have “walk-in” services available, as well as the opportunity to schedule appointments.
  • In 2012, surveyed adolescents identified two key, common characteristics of friendly health services: respect and confidentiality.

TAG in Action: Delivering Health Care Where the Teens Are

The HHS Office of Adolescent Health has identified a number of successful strategies for improving and promoting adolescent health. The Mobile Adolescent Health Services program, known as the Teen Health Van, provides comprehensive, coordinated and adolescent-friendly medical, mental health, and nutrition/fitness care to vulnerable youth ages 10-25. The Teen Van is a mobile health unit that travels the San Francisco Bay Area, regularly visiting schools and community agencies in order to reach young people who are homeless, uninsured or underinsured, and who don't have access to health services. The staff includes a physician specializing in adolescent medicine, a nurse practitioner, a social worker, a dietitian, a medical assistant, and a registrar/driver. Dr. Seth Ammerman, the Teen Van's founder and physician, notes that "because our approach is adolescent focused, adolescent friendly, and adolescent respectful, we are actually meeting the young people where they are both physically and developmentally." One terrific example of a youth-focused approach that the Teen Health Van employs is asking each teen to say something great about themselves or something they love doing. The doctor adds that to the chart notes, and refers back to it at the next visit as a way of strengthening the connection to the young person.

Another successful approach is The SPOT (Supporting Positive Opportunities for Teens), a comprehensive health and social services center that serves young people ages 13-24 in St. Louis, Missouri. The SPOT provides free, confidential medical care, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and case management services to any young people who needs them. The SPOT is an affiliate of the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine and has a number of medical partners, including the Children's Hospital of St. Louis. In addition, The SPOT also provides a safe place for teens to hang out. Youth can drop in from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. to use a computer, take a shower, or grab a snack. The SPOT's Executive Director, Kim Donica, says, "Youth hear about us by word of mouth. Their first visit is often because they really need something, but they return because they trust us and know The SPOT is a safe place."

What Can You Do?

Co-locating health services with other programs aimed at youth or at places where youth naturally congregate, such as schools or local community centers, can improve the chances that teens will receive the care they need. Providers can ensure that clinics are welcoming and that services are developmentally appropriate, even through asking their teen patients how to better meet their needs. Without access to high-quality, teen-friendly health services, some adolescents may avoid taking care of their healthcare needs. Here are some resources for improving access to high-quality, teen-friendly health care for adolescents:

Follow #TAG42Mil for TAG updates and share your ideas with us at TAGTeam@hhs.gov

TAG Tweets of the Month (please tweet!)

A #Teenhealth essential: access to high-quality, teen-friendly health care http://1.usa.gov/1SDiI8w #TAG42mil

Meet teens where they are physically & developmentally. Read abt Mobile Teen Health Van #teenfriendly #TAG42mil http://1.usa.gov/20XVIr8

The Spot in St Louis: A safe place for teens to get health & hang out #teenfriendly http://1.usa.gov/1NBy2RD #TAG42mil

There are 42M teens in the US - that's 42M opportunities for better health http://1.usa.gov/1SDbcLP #TAG42mil

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on February 22, 2017