At Pediatricians Inc., we are committed to providing the best possible medical care from infancy through the college years. We hope that as your children grow, our relationship with them will grow also. Adolescence is a special time of transition in the lives of both children and their parents. Although they are not yet fully adults, teenagers are beginning to establish their own separate identity. It is important for them to take gradually increasing responsibility for their own lives. Individual teens do this at different rates and different ages.
As teenagers begin to take more control of their own health, sometimes they may not feel comfortable sharing health concerns with their parents. While our physicians consider the relationship between parents and their adolescents to be of utmost importance, it is essential that teens feel free to share information with their doctor with the expectation that it will be kept private. Many teenagers say worries about confidentiality are a big reason why they may avoid seeking medical care or guidance. Thus, we have developed the following principles in guiding our care of adolescent patients:
- Starting at age 13, we generally expect to spend part of a teen’s wellness visit alone with them. Under certain circumstances, a teenager may decide that they prefer to have a parent in the exam room with them while they see us. This request will be honored.
- When we do see teenagers alone (or speak to them by telephone), information discussed is considered private and confidential. This means it will not be shared with others (including parents) without permission of the teenager.
- This does not mean that we do not also speak to parents. A parent may wish to speak to us, or we to them, with or without the teenager present. We consider a parent’s perspective and concerns of great relevance to their child’s care. If we can, we will reassure them about worries they have, answer general questions, or give advice. We do not disclose confidential information, however, and hope parents will trust that we are taking the best possible care of their children.
- Often our discussions in private with adolescents are about things we feel should be shared with their parents. We will tell the teenager when we feel that way, and ask for their permission to do so. Most often, they agree. If they do not, we may try to convince them by explaining our reasons. Ultimately, we will respect their decision except in extreme circumstances (see #5).
- In rare situations, we may decide we have no choice but to break confidentiality. This will only be when we think someone is in imminent danger of severe harm and the only way for us to protect him or her is to break confidentiality. The person in danger might be the adolescent, or it might be somebody else. In either case, if we are going to break confidentiality we will make every effort to tell the teenager before we do so, and look for alternative solutions.
The above guidelines apply to information of any kind about any subject. They are in accordance with Massachusetts law, general principles of medical ethics, and the policies of the American Academy of Pediatrics.