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Medical Ethics Understanding Relationships between Doctors and Teenagers

The doctor-patient relationship with teenagers

Doctors have a unique doctor-patient relationship with teenagers. Depending upon the age of the teenager, this will usually include a parent, parents or a guardian. In a medical-ethical doctor-patient relationship with teenagers, medical-ethical practice guidelines are important.

Teenagers, as ‘almost, but not quite adults’ can turn to a doctor, even at times when they cannot relate properly to a parent, parents or guardians.

The difficulty a doctor encounters has to do with maintaining the confidentiality of the teenager who is a patient, while not overstepping the boundaries of parental or guardian medical-ethical guidelines.

Trust is vital in a doctor-patient relationship with teenagers, but at the same time, the doctor does not want to break a well-established, trust relationship with the teenager’s parent, parents or guardian, either.

With young teenagers, this is not usually a concern, as parents or guardians are actively involved in their medical care. As the teenagers get older, they begin to assert their own will, individuality and independence, placing the doctor who diagnoses or treats them in a precarious position at times.

Often, older teenagers do not want their parent, parents or a guardian to know the medical situation at hand. In fact, they may choose to go to another doctor, or lie about their ages to avoid the doctor having contact with their parents in respect to their medical information. The other doctor may not know their parents, previous medical history or anything about them. Confronted with their need for medical treatment or care, even repeated attempts to elicit information from them, often prove futile.

The doctor who has the consent of the parent, parents or guardians, is in a less precarious medical-ethical situation with teenagers. The doctor who does not have the consent of a parent, parents or guardian, is potentially vulnerable to moral, ethical and legal problems, that may include action taken on behalf of the teenager, by the parent or guardian. Thus, doctors may insist upon having parental or guardian consent before seeing or diagnosing a teenager. When that is not possible, the doctor may have to choose between ordering him or her to bring in a parent or guardian, diagnosing and treating the teenager or forcing that teenager to find medical assistance elsewhere.

A doctor may agree to assist a teenager, but insist upon awareness of a parent or guardian with respect to further treatment. In this manner, the doctor may be able to treat the patient while attempting to reach a compromise with him or her. It is up to his or her professional discretion, but may put the doctor in a vulnerable position, at the same time.

Many doctors are the parents of teenagers and thus, are familiar with teenage life styles, issues and concerns. Even their teenagers may go through periods of confusion and rebellion. Other doctors may have been the family doctor of many teenagers, from birth onward and relate to them in that way.

Ideally, a doctor has a nurse present for the diagnosis, treatment, procedures and surgery needed by teenagers. Medical documentation in terms of medical records becomes important and can prevent future problems. This data then becomes available with respect to future medical care. In an emergency scenario, where there is no parent or guardian present to sign a medical consent form, a doctor may choose to act on behalf of the teenager, but will notify the parent, parents or guardian, as soon as possible.

Many doctors enjoy contact with teenagers, as they often have new thoughts and ideas. Doctors may seek a teenager who is interested in his or her line of work and capable of becoming a doctor, who he or she can mentor.

Doctors are usually excellent counselors who assist teenagers with respect to guidance and directives regarding the future, as well as deal with their medical problems. Doctors counsel teenagers in a positive, constructive manner that is compatible with high medical-ethical standards.

Remember that doctors were teenagers once too and can usually relate to them. The doctor-patient relationship with a teenager is truly unique.