Shortchanging adolescents: room for improvement in preventive care by physicians

Fam Med. 2001 Feb;33(2):120-3.


Background and objectives: Behaviors developed in adolescence influence health later in life. Adolescents seldom visit physicians to discuss health-related behaviors. Instead, physicians must incorporate health counseling into the exams for which the adolescents do come. We studied the frequency and duration of adolescents' consultations with family physicians and pediatricians involving counseling about diet and nutrition, exercise, weight reduction, cholesterol reduction, HIV transmission, injury prevention, and tobacco use.

Methods: Data were analyzed from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for the 3-year period from 1995 through 1997. This survey uses a multistage national probability sample of patient visits to nonfederal, office-based physicians. We described patterns of counseling provided to adolescents and compared patterns for family physicians/general practitioners and pediatricians.

Results: Of 91,395 physician-reported visits analyzed, 4,242 (4.6%) were by adolescents ages 12-19. Visits to family physicians and pediatricians accounted for 1,846 (43.5%) of these visits. Counseling about any of the seven areas studied was included in 15.8% of family physician visits and 21.6% of pediatrician visits. The length of consultation increased from 13.8 to 17.6 minutes if counseling was included.

Conclusions: Adolescents visits physicians infrequently. When they do, few receive counseling on critical adolescent health issues. Both family physicians and pediatricians have room for improvement.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services / standards*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Family Practice / standards
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic / standards*
  • Pediatrics / standards
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards
  • Preventive Health Services / standards*
  • Quality of Health Care / standards*