Purpose: To examine U.S. adolescents' (age 13-18) utilization of ambulatory care and the likelihood of receiving preventive counseling from 1993 through 2000.
Methods: The National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey provided visit-based data on counseling services that occurred in private physician offices and hospital outpatient departments. Main outcome measures included adolescents' use of outpatient care and their likelihood of being counseled on 3 health promotion topics (i.e., diet, exercise, and growth/development) and 5 risk reduction topics (i.e., tobacco use/exposure, skin cancer prevention, injury prevention, family planning/contraception, and HIV/STD transmission).
Results: Adolescents had the lowest rates of outpatient visits among all age groups, with particularly low rates among boys and ethnic minorities. Most frequently, adolescent visits were for upper respiratory tract conditions, acne, routine medical or physical examinations, and, for girls, prenatal care. In 1997-2000, counseling services were documented for 39% (99% CI: 32-46%) of all adolescent general medical/physical examination (GME) visits. Diet [26% of GME visits (20-32%)] and exercise [22% (17-28%)] were the most frequent counseling topics. The counseling rates of the other six topics ranged from as low as 3 to 20%, with skin cancer prevention, HIV/STD transmission, and family planning/contraception ranking the lowest. These rates represented minimal improvements from 1993-1996 both in absolute term and in relation to the gaps between practices and recommendations.
Conclusions: Adolescents underutilize primary care, and even those who do receive care are underserved for their health counseling needs. The noted lack of change over time suggests that satisfactory improvement is unlikely unless substantial interventions are undertaken.