Adolescence is often a time of significant change for both children and their caregivers. With such rapid physical, cognitive and emotional development, there is often a shift in how pediatric health care providers (HCPs) navigate caring for these patients. The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) recognizes confidentiality and privacy as foundational to providing adolescents with health care. As children grow and mature, pediatric-focused nurse practitioners and their fellow pediatric providers have the opportunity and responsibility to promote informed health-related decision-making among their adolescent patients and patient families.
While the age of consent and medical records privacy in the U.S. is 18 years old, all states and territories allow patients under 18 certain exceptions, such as the ability to consent to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. This is crucial in creating opportunities for adolescents to discuss sensitive topics with their providers. By allowing adolescents to consent for other health care such as contraception, mental health treatment, or general medical care, clinicians can help patients begin to navigate the health care system while being closely supported by both providers and parents/caregivers.
“As pediatric-focused nurse practitioners, we are uniquely positioned to increase health literacy and independence in our adolescent patients, so they are able to make informed health care choices throughout life,” said NAPNAP President Regena Spratling, PhD, RN, APRN, CPNP-PC, FAANP, FAAN. “By supporting privacy and confidentiality policies in our practices, we can provide a more supportive environment for adolescent patients to ask questions, share concerns and foster their need for autonomy while providing quality pediatric health care.”
NAPNAP advocates for educating pediatric providers, staff and agencies about the rights of adolescents in their state and incorporating policies to protect these rights consistent with federal, state and local laws. At the state and federal level, NAPNAP encourages providers to advocate for laws that protect adolescent confidentiality and access to comprehensive health services with an adolescent-friendly clinician. Finally, pediatric providers can provide timely access to comprehensive care, including preventive, sexual and reproductive health, gender-affirming care, mental health, and substance use services/counseling, to the full extent permitted.
The position statement, including additional recommendations, is published in the September/October edition of the Journal of Pediatric Health Care and can be accessed here.
Sept. 19, 2023