Objective: We aimed to characterize adolescent parents' understanding of their infant's diagnosis, treatment and illness severity in the intensive care unit.
Study design: Adolescent mothers were interviewed and neonatal medical records were reviewed.
Result: Forty-two teens were interviewed. All had spoken with providers: 86% with nurses, 60% with physicians and 45% with both. Most teens could name their infant's diagnosis and treatment but often underestimated the illness severity. Teens reported reluctance to ask providers to clarify technical language. Those who said they spoke with a physician were less likely to understand their infant's illness severity than those who said they had not spoken with a physician (48 vs 82%). Parents' knowledge was better if physicians had documented explicit efforts to communicate with parents.
Conclusion: Teens often underestimated the critical nature of their infant's illness. Future work should target adolescent willingness to ask questions and provider ability to accurately gauge parent knowledge.