This article appeared as the Spotlight Story for July 2012.
In April, we took one giant step in a long process to illustrate best practices in adolescent care for North Carolina youth. The Gaston County Health Department’s Teen Wellness Center is a new model for providing medical care to teens.
When we launched our CDC-funded Gaston Youth Connected project in 2010, we knew increasing access to medical care would be a key strategy for promoting health and reducing teen pregnancies. Unfortunately, American health care systems are notoriously hard to navigate – especially for teens.
A methodical approach of gathering input, reviewing practices and procedures, and bolstering outreach and education has created one of the best teen clinics North Carolina has to offer.
No one can speak for teens better than teens themselves! We started our process by conducting a series of focus groups to understand the barriers local teens face to accessing the care they need.
As it turns out, teens want many of the same things we all want from our medical care:
- To know a clinic honors their legally protected confidentiality
- A competent, caring, nonjudgmental staff
- Time with a medical professional to ask questions and get answers
In addition, teens expressed their challenges navigating payment and health insurance, accessing services after school hours, and transportation.
We also surveyed local parents and found that 82% say it’s important for their teen to know where to access birth control, including condoms.
In response to our focus groups and with the input from the Gaston Youth Connected Teen Action Council, the Gaston County Health Department worked to adapt an underutilized clinic space.
In addition to renovating the clinic – with teens providing input on everything from the logo to the paint colors – clinic staff worked with experts from Ciccatelli Associates to adopt teen-friendly practices.
From the person setting appointments to the nurse who checks a patient’s height and weight to the teen advocate available to answer questions, everyone is trained to help patients feel comfortable and cared for. And, while our focus is largely on impacting adolescent sexual health, teens are encouraged to use the clinic as a medical home for immunizations, wellness visits, sports physicals, and other routine care.
Creating a teen-friendly clinic space isn’t enough. Teens need to know they can use it.
Through surveys of youth entering evidence-based programs, we found that 7 out of 10 Gaston County teens did not know about their right to consent to care or where to access medical care in the community.
In addition to creating a marketing plan for the clinic (with teen input, of course), we developed a new lesson plan for community organizations to use to boost participants’ ability to navigate health systems.
Knowledge to Action: Helping Teens Access Health Services is a new lesson plan that helps young people understand their rights to consent to medical care, how to talk to a doctor, and how to handle the logistics of setting and keeping an appointment.
Knowledge to Action can be downloaded for free from our website and adapted for use in any community. The lesson plan offers tracks for youth in both comprehensive and abstinence-only programs.
Opening the Teen Wellness Center was a big step – but it’s not the end.
Every patient who walks through the Teen Wellness Center fills out two forms at the end of their visit. One asks patients how they heard about the Teen Wellness Center so we can continue to evaluate our outreach. The other asks how satisfied patients were with their level of care so we can continue to ensure services are effective and teen-friendly.
We’re also working with private health care providers and youth-serving professionals in the community. Private health care providers can learn how to incorporate teen-friendly practices. Youth-serving professionals can learn how to make referrals to clinical services and how to build health literacy in the youth they serve.
View a snapshot of our process and progress from our 2012 poster presentation to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Learn more about Gaston Youth Connected