TUESDAY, Dec. 9, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Better coordination and care, along with improved training for health care providers, are among the reforms needed to improve the fragmented and poorly designed health services currently available for American teens.
That recommendation is contained in a report, Adolescent Health Services: Missing Opportunities, released Dec. 9 by the National Research Council and the U.S. Institute of Medicine.
Most U.S. teens are healthy, but a number engage in risky behavior, develop unhealthy habits and have physical and mental conditions that threaten their immediate and future health, said the report. Health care providers need better training to deal with the specific needs of patients ages 10 to 19, the report added.
"Adolescents have unique health care needs, and our health system should approach their care the same way it does children or adults," report committee chairman Robert S. Lawrence, professor of environmental health sciences and health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a National Research Council news release.
"As policymakers discuss how to restructure the way health care is delivered in the U.S., the distinct problems faced by adolescents -- such as risky behavior -- deserve particular attention. And because adolescence is a critical period for developing habits that build a strong foundation for health throughout one's entire life, services need to focus on promoting healthy behaviors, preventing disease, and managing health conditions," Lawrence said.
He and his colleagues said that some teens, particularly those who are uninsured or underinsured, have little or no access to mainstream primary care services. Instead, they rely largely on "safety-net" care provided by hospitals, community centers and school-based health centers.
The report also said fragmentation in services and providers needed by teens results in care gaps. For example, most adolescents can't access specialty services in mental health, sexual health, oral health and substance abuse treatment, the report said.
The report authors said federal and state agencies, insurers and private foundations need to develop a coordinated health care system that improves services for all teens. Also, more must be done to meet the needs of adolescents who may be especially vulnerable to risky behavior or poor health, such as those who are poor, recent immigrants or in foster care.
Comprehensive, continuous health insurance is another requirement. The more than five million Americans ages 10 to 18 who are uninsured use health care services less often and are less likely to have a regular source of primary care than insured adolescents, the report noted.
The Nemours Foundation has more about teen health care.