New Healthcare for Teens
Docs for Teens
Everyone's heard the old saying that teenagers "think
they're immortal." That's one explanation for why they're less likely to go
to the doctors than any other part of the U.S. population.
But is it true? As any teen can tell you, being a teenager is
hardly carefree. Experts agree. While they statistically don't have a great
number of medical problems, teenagers are exposed to a lot of risks, says
Charles Irwin, MD, president of the Society for Adolescent Medicine and
director of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at UCSF. Being a teen often
means facing a lot of stress and hard choices about issues like using alcohol
and drugs or having sex.
Despite the significant risks that teens face, Mary-Ann Shafer,
MD, argues that teenagers are not always well-served by the traditional
healthcare system and they can get stuck in limbo. "Teens reach a certain
age where they're not kids, but they're not adults either, so neither the
internists nor the classic pediatricians want to take care of them."
Shafer, who is associate director of adolescent medicine at
UCSF, says that some teens are seeking out experts who specialize in treating
teens, especially at centers like hers. And that's making not only teens happy,
but their parents, too.
More Than Medicine
So what's wrong with continuing to see the family pediatrician
as a teenager?
Often nothing. But according to Shafer and Irwin,, for a teen,
hitting puberty can sometimes make the relationship with his or her
pediatrician awkward. It may feel strange to ask your doctor about sex or drugs
when, just a few years before, this same doctor was giving you lollipops after
you got your shots. A teenager may find it hard to take herself seriously if
she has to sit in a pediatrician's waiting room, surrounded by wailing
toddlers, picture books, and stuffed animals. For many teens, it may just seem
easier and less embarrassing to stay away from the doctor altogether.
But to negotiate the risks that teenagers face, they could
really use the help. The teenage years are a short period of time with a
profound impact on the rest of a person's life, according to Shafer. A lot of
the behaviors and habits -- both good and bad -- that people have as adults
develop when they are teens.
The emphasis in adolescent medicine isn't strictly medical.
"The advantage for a teenager seeing an expert in adolescent health is that
they have a physician who knows about not only the physiological issues of
adolescence, but also the behavioral." Says Irwin.
Shafer agrees. "When I do a well-care visit with a
teenager," Shafer says, "most of the time, I'm doing more than a
physical." She's often talking with them about the issues they're worried
about, including alcohol, drugs, and the risks of sex.