Since 1991, North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped more than 50% - and the medical community has played a large part in that success. A recent analysis shows that increased use of contraceptives is the primary cause for the decline in teen pregnancy.
Despite the positive trend, the medical system can be especially challenging for teens. Luckily, there are steps medical professionals and facilities can take to help teens access the care they need.
The Teen Healthcare Experience
Like any patient, teens are concerned about their healthcare experiences. But adolescents face concerns that other patients do not – and their concerns can become barriers to receiving care.
Through research from the National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health – and confirmed by our own focus groups – teens say their primary concerns are:
- Confidentiality. Teens want to know they can ask questions or request care without fear that their private health concerns will become public gossip.
- Accessibility. Limited access to transportation and maintaining school attendance can make appointment-setting more difficult for teens than for other patients.
- Staff Professionalism. Many teens only hear about sexual health in judgmental contexts, and want a medical experience that is honest and caring without feeling judged.
- Cost. Many teens are not covered by health insurance or have limited experience with using private insurance.
It is also helpful to understand that teens access medical care infrequently during adolescence – often only when acute care is needed. That means a teen may never have a routine check-up. This makes incorporating sexual health questions into intake screening a critical step in ensuring basic care.
Making Health Care Work for Teens
Specific steps medical facilities can take to make sexual health care work better for teens include:
- Include questions about sexual and relationship health on intake questionnaires
- Clarify and reinforce confidentiality procedures to ease patient anxieties
- Staff should present themselves as smart, friendly, and nonjudgmental
- Stock specific health information for teens so young people don’t have to navigate information for adults
- Take time to ask and answer questions
- Help teens manage appointment-setting with same-day, walk-in, or after-school scheduling
- Provide long-acting reversible contraceptives to provide longer-term, cost-effective coverage
Minors’ Right to Consent in North Carolina
Like all states, North Carolina protects the right of a minor to consent to specific health services.
In North Carolina, minors have the legal right to obtain the following medical services without a parent or guardian’s permission:
- Contraceptives (birth control, including emergency contraception)
- Testing and treatment for STDs and HIV
- Pregnancy testing and prenatal care
- Treatment for substance abuse or mental illness
Ideally, a teen can involve a parent in the decision making process – and we encourage medical professionals to offer guidance and tips on how to strengthen parent-teen relationships. However, we know this isn’t possible for all young people.
Finding Answers Online
Many organizations focus specifically on strengthening the quality and availability of adolescent care. If you are interested in more concrete steps to assessing and improving the care you provide, please visit: