Teens take risks: that is part of the nature of adolescence. Pediatricians know that most of the health damaging, even deadly, threats to children in their teenaged years can be prevented if teens avoid dangerous risks and habits. A University of California, San Francisco study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that training can increase the number of times that health providers will put that knowledge into practice.
The study showed that a carefully-designed training program to teach pediatricians how to talk to teenagers about risks during annual medical exams can increase the number of teens who are screened for several risky behaviors by an average of 16 percent. As a result, in the three HMO clinics participating in the study, three-quarters of teens were screened for some types of risk.
"Most teenagers are healthy," said UCSF assistant research psychologist Julie Lustig, PhD, lead author of the report published in the May, 2001 issue of Pediatrics. "The leading causes of health problems and death in this age group include motor vehicle accidents, unintentional injuries, sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy. These outcomes result from unhealthy risk-taking behaviors including use of alcohol and other substances, unsafe sexual practices and risky vehicle use. A routine pediatric checkup provides a wonderful opportunity for a pediatrician to ask important questions and counsel teens about behaviors that are just beginning, potentially preventing life-long habits from developing."
Though national guidelines call for pediatricians to do such screening and counseling with adolescents, Lustig said previous studies show that many doctors' visits go by without a conversation about risk, or with questions about only one or two potential problems such as smoking or alcohol use. The literature shows that pediatricians feel they lack the training and resources to do more, she said.