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Healthcare Needed for Our Tweens and Teens

This week a study by Social & Scientific Systems Inc., summarized by PR Newswire, has found that between 1996 and 2005 there has been a 6 percent increase in the number of U.S. citizens who have three or more chronic illnesses.  And with the lack of affordable healthcare this is no longer just an issue for the millions of uninsured, but for our own children.  According the article “Shaping good health as teens outgrow pediatricians” by Lauran Neergaard of the Associated Press, recent research performed by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine has found that there are few doctors equipped to provide comprehensive healthcare to tweens and teens.  Adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years of age, experience, arguably, the greatest biological transformation and yet the healthcare system is poorly equipped to deal with the needs of a demographic that is known for testing boundaries.

Healthcare Dilemma for Our Children

While there has been a decline in teen pregnancies, other health problems have been rising among our youth, especially obesity and mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.  As a 24-year-old, I can attest to the fact that the majority of young adults in their late teens and early twenties rarely see a physician for a yearly physical.  During my college career, the only reason I saw an M.D. on a regular basis was because my boyfriend’s step-father was a doctor.  Many of my friends only saw a doctor because they were injured, sick, or in need of birth control.

For those of us who attended college, we may have been lucky enough to stay on our parent’s health insurance, since many university health centers offer little in the department of preventative care.  But there are millions of young adults who are uninsured, often due to the fact that government funded healthcare programs that provide coverage for children often exclude individuals over the age of 18.

Adolescence is no longer just a time of experimentation but is a crucial turning point in the health of our children, since the majority of fatal health conditions begin at a young age.  And while teens may see doctors regularly due to school requirements or parental concern, this does not guarantee that their healthcare needs are being fully met.  According to the Associated Press article the report noted,

it can take at least 40 minutes to do a thorough adolescent checkup, including screening and counseling for risky behaviors – the kind that may prompt enough trust for the teen to return with a problem he or she doesn’t want Mom to know about.

Suggestions for Choosing a Doctor

The solution is not simple since there are few physicians who are board certified in adolescent medicine, and they are not located in every state.  What you can do as a parent is:

  1. Make sure that your child is comfortable with their physician and can build a rapport with them.  Often teenagers are not the most forthcoming with information, not necessarily because they have something to hide but because they assume that adults can figure out what was going on.
  2. You need to find a doctor that your child cannot only trust but who can ask the right questions to gain insight into your child’s physical and mental health.  I know my most common response when I am asked how I am doing is, “I’m fine”, which does not shed much light on what is really going on.

While you may start off right as a parent by breastfeeding or avoiding BPA exposure, and being educated on health warnings, it remains necessary to help foster in your child an interest in their health.  The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” may seem gimicky, but it is being proven throughout the medical community that our current healthcare system, which lacks sufficient primary and secondary prevention measures, is not sustainable.  We can educate our children in preventative medicine, including annual physicals, proper diet and lifestyle, averting diseases and illnesses that are in many cases merely symptoms of a poor lifestyle and lack of awareness.

Image: 2008.11.25 – The physician by a.drian on Flickr under Creative Commons License

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