Purpose: To determine how often primary care physicians screen adolescents for important risk factors and to determine how rates of screening vary by physicians' specialty and practice setting, patients' age, and type of risk factor.
Methods: A stratified random sample of 343 California physicians who are Board certified in pediatrics, family practice, or internal medicine, and physicians in these specialties who specialized in adolescent medicine were surveyed about their screening practices using a mailed questionnaire. Subjects were asked the percentage of routine comprehensive physical examination during which they personally queried or screened each age group of adolescents (11-14 years old and 15-18 years old) for each of the following risk factors: high blood pressure, alcohol use, cigarette use, sexual activity, and drug use.
Results: The frequency with which primary care physicians reported actually screening younger and older adolescents for the various risks were approximately: 93% and 96% for high blood pressure, 70% and 84% for alcohol use, 74% and 82% for drug use, 67% and 83% for sexual activity, and 76% and 86% for smoking, respectively. For all risk factors, providers screened older adolescents more frequently than younger adolescents (p < 0.01). Finally, screening rates varied by specialty (p < 0.01) but not by practice setting.
Conclusions: This study found that California physicians frequently screen adolescents for a variety of risk factors. However, the reported rates may not be consistent with published guidelines. Interventions may need to be developed which focus on improving primary care physicians' adolescent-specific screening practices.