Adolescents' needs for health care privacy

Pediatrics. 2010 Dec;126(6):e1469-76. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-0389. Epub 2010 Nov 22.


Objective: To understand adolescents' preferences for multidimensional aspects of privacy, including psychological, social, and physical, and confidentiality (informational privacy) in the health care setting.

Patients and methods: Fifty-four adolescents with and without chronic illness participated in 12 focus groups composed of participants of the same age (11-14 or 15-19 years), gender, and health status. Health care preferences, including privacy and confidentiality, were discussed, and themes were determined. On the basis of a literature review, Burgoon's framework best represented participant feedback. The data were categorized as representations of informational, psychological, social, or physical privacy.

Results: Maintaining informational privacy (ie, keeping information confidential) was most salient to the adolescents. Younger adolescents were concerned with information being disclosed to others (ie, health care providers), whereas older adolescents worried more about information being disclosed to parents. Other privacy aspects (psychological, social, and physical) also were important. To protect psychological privacy, adolescents were cautious about revealing sensitive information for fear of being judged by providers. To protect social privacy, they were reluctant to talk with unfamiliar or multiple providers, and they did not want to discuss issues they perceived as unrelated to their health care. Adolescents who commented about physical privacy said that they thought about their physical safety during physical examinations, as well as their visibility to others, and said that they were more comfortable when examinations were performed by female rather than male providers.

Conclusions: Adolescents value all aspects of privacy. Providers should address not only informational but also psychological, social, and physical privacy to improve the care of adolescent patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services / standards*
  • Child
  • Confidentiality*
  • Disclosure*
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult