Time, trust key to successful teen-doctor relationship

August 14, 2002

Doctors willing to spend time and effort to build trust with their young patients will be rewarded with a more productive and long-lasting relationship, according to a new study.

"Adolescents want a strong interpersonal relationship with their [health care] provider, a sense of emotional and physical safety, and a provider who offers counseling," says Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D., M.S.Ed., of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Teens in the study also explained that "that they really only trusted their providers after long and consistent relationships," Ginsburg and colleagues write in the August issue of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

However, teenagers also may want to have access to doctors other than their primary care physicians when they have symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases or other diseases that they may feel embarrassed about, Ginsburg says.

The factors that were most important to adolescents in how they related to their doctors were the doctor's honesty and a nonjudgmental, caring and up-to-date approach.

"Understanding teenagers, taking time with them and listening to them set the stage for a relationship in which youth can develop greater independence as they transition to adult care," the researchers say. "Teenage patients feel a loss of control when they do not understand the content of the medical visits or office procedures."

The researchers surveyed 2,600 ninth-graders in Philadelphia's public schools. Several hundred students also were questioned about their answers during follow-up focus group sessions.

Students valued doctors who ran a tight ship, both using clean instruments and washing their hands in front of patients. They also liked doctors who appeared organized and careful in their record keeping.

"They may worry less about physical harm or disease transmission when they know their provider is competent," Ginsburg says.

The youths also considered confidentiality to be "critical to the provider-patient relationship, but it was not something teens trusted unless other key ingredients such as honesty and respect were in place," the researchers say.
The study was fund by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Maternal and Child Health, the Douty Foundation and the Craig-Dalsimer Fund.

FOR MORE INFORMATION Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org. Interviews: Erin McDermott, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 215-590-7429 Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: Contact Mary Sharkey at (212) 595-7717.

Center for Advancing Health

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