A new study by researchers at the Children's National Medical Center at Georgetown University shows that many teenagers seeking confidential medical care for pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases may find their primary care doctors are unable or unwilling to keep their information secret, Reuters Health reports. Even doctors who are willing to maintain confidentiality can be undermined by office staff who incorrectly tell teens such care is not available.
The researchers telephoned primary care, pediatrics, and family practice offices in the Washington, D.C., area and followed up with a written survey sent to doctors. Personnel who answered the phone were asked if adolescents could obtain a pelvic exam, access to contraceptives, and STD testing without parental knowledge of the visit; doctors were asked the same questions in the written survey. Of the 170 doctors who responded to the written survey, only 92 said they offered such services without parental consent. In 63% of the practices that were called, office staff answering the phones contradicted the doctor's written responses to the questions.
"Teenagers may not go to get care for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases if they think their parents are going to find out, and that's why the professional medical organizations have always had the position that this care should be available on a confidential basis for teenagers," said study author Lara Akinbami. "Information teenagers receive about confidentiality when trying to schedule an appointment may be a deciding factor in whether to seek health care."
The researchers recommend that more doctors develop written policies on confidential medical services for adolescents and that everyone in the office be trained to respond to teenagers' questions.