NFID investigates lull in teen checkups


NFID survey investigates lull in annual checkups for teens

According to recent statistics produced by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the United States Census, nearly one-third of the nation’s adolescents could be skipping out on important annual checkups.

To discern why such a pattern may be occurring, the National Foundation of Infectious Disease (NFID) — along with Pfizer Inc. and Harris Interactive — embarked on a mission to interview more than 2,000 parents of teenagers, teens themselves and healthcare professionals.  They found varying degrees of disconnect amongst each of the parties involved, but also a sprawling willingness to bridge the divides.

“NFID has long been an advocate of preventive health. With the drop in annual checkups during the teen years, we wanted to take a look at the attitudes and behaviors of the people closest to teen health to see if we can better understand the reason for the decline," said Susan J. Rehm, MD, NFID medical director, in a prepared statement. "There's a valley in our healthcare continuum, and two out of three teens surveyed said they have at least one reason for not getting an annual checkup. If we understand why, we may be better equipped to address those perceptions."

Key findings include the following:

All information and data courtesy of NFID. Presentation by PhysBizTech. Image courtesy of SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolage via Creative Commons licensing.

Moreover, one in four parents believed that most teenage lifestyle choices would not affect their health in the future; one in five adolescents interviewed were in agreement. But, according to the survey results: “Nearly all parents, teens and physicians surveyed (94, 96 and 97 percent, respectively) agree that teens should have a say in decisions about their own health. And the survey shows being healthy can be top of mind for many; two out of three teens surveyed say they worry a lot or a great deal about staying healthy. However, only 28 percent of parents reported that they believe their teens worry a lot or a great deal about their health.

Other important survey returns were listed as such:

  • Almost 40 percent of teens surveyed say they don't like talking with doctors or other health care providers.  
  • Fifty percent of teens surveyed turn to the Internet for health information.
  • Parents surveyed report that when they are in the room, only half of the conversation is directed solely toward the teen.

It’s important to align such disparate perspectives, analyst insisted.

"The information and communication dynamic among teens, parents and doctors is an important one," said Leslie Walker, MD, immediate past-president of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) and division chief of adolescent medicine and professor of pediatrics at University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children's Hospital, in a news release. "It's appropriate for teens to be able to talk to their doctor alone. Establishing this one-on-one relationship between patient and physician encourages independence and responsibility for one's own health."

Physicians should remind their younger patients and their parent/guardians of the recommendations for annual checkups put forth by the professional societies such as SAHM and the American Medical Association. Furthermore, to do this, teens must be included especially in conversations regarding their health.

"Teens are smart, but they're just like the rest of us: overscheduled and overwhelmed. It's normal to have an 'it won't happen to me' attitude," concluded Aria Finger, chief operating officer of DoSomething.org, a large social change nonprofit in the United States. "It's about changing the consciousness of teens and those who care for them. Everyone wants what's best. Making the annual checkup part of the norm during teen years sets young people up to take charge and get ahead of the curve about their own health. Teens are social beings. The adults and peers in their lives model behaviors and influence attitudes about health and well being. Engaging these audiences or equipping them to positively influence teens can go a long way.”

Find the survey in full here.