Improving adolescent health makes sense on many levels. Adolescence is a time of momentous bodily and emotional change that may result in contact with primary care.
Establishing a rapport with young people is a long-term investment in the doctor- patient relationship.
Improving adolescent health will bring long-term health benefits, providing a golden opportunity to modify chronic disease risk factors such as smoking and diet.
Talking to young people is often refreshing and fun, although it may sometimes feel challenging or awkward. Above all, providing effective care to this age group requires certain skills and knowledge, particularly regarding communication and some factual issues such as legal matters.
While many health issues for young people overlap with adult health, there are particular areas where better understanding and confidence may make a big difference to the care we give. For example:
- How confident do you feel about seeing young people unaccompanied? From what age?
- What about consent and legal aspects of planning surgery perhaps, or caring for a young person with a long-term condition?
- Does your comfort zone extend to communicating with a group of giggling girls or a monosyllabic troubled youth?
- Do you know where your adolescent patients get their health advice from? Where might you direct them for information?
- Is your surgery 'young people friendly'? Does it fulfil the 'You're Welcome' criteria?
- Where would you go for 'best practice' information when developing service?
Because of recent developments in adolescent health, answers to all these problems are now readily available.
Educational material for clinicians Log on to the new e-Learning for Healthcare (www.e-lfh.org.uk) Adolescent Health programme, which sets out the whole adolescent health curriculum. It is free to all NHS clinicians and appropriate for anyone who provides care to young people.
Resources to recommend to young people Youth Health Talk (www.youthhealthtalk.org) is a site where young people describe their own experiences of illnesses. It is relevant both for patients who want to know more about a condition and for clinicians seeking to understand the patient's perspective.
Teenage Health Freak (www.teenagehealthfreak.org) is a fantastic and reliable site for general health information for young people to look at.
Service development and research Contact the Association for Young People's Health for issues around service development or research.
The Adolescent Task Group of the RCGP works to promote primary care involvement, including responding to initiatives and developing resources.
e-Learning for Healthcare
e-Learning for Healthcare (e-LfH) is a DoH-funded web-based training package that outlines the adolescent health curriculum. It has been developed following cross-college collaboration between the RCGP and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and with input from the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Psychiatry.
The information is arranged in four tiers of complexity, so that it is accessible to users with varying educational needs. It uses a variety of interactive teaching methods including self-assessment pages, video clips and case examples.
After completion of any session, the user can import certification into their personal development plan to confirm the learning activity.
The curriculum covers topics specific to the needs of young people and so is particularly useful for issues such as the legal framework and confidentiality, transition and problems relating to chronic disease and disability, puberty and development, weight and eating disorders, mental health including substance misuse, plus adolescent aspects of sexual health.
Each session is designed to incorporate self-assessment within the learning process. Sessions, which take around 20 minutes to complete, or modules can be used to teach stand-alone topics - perhaps in small group teaching sessions.
It can also be used to build up a more detailed understanding of adolescent health by working through a series of modules.
The intended audience for this very user-friendly resource includes any clinician who regularly has contact with young people. It is suitable for primary care and community staff including doctors, foundation year and specialist trainees, practice nurses, school nurses, sexual health and youth workers.
It is also a very useful resource for staff heading into secondary care such as trainee paediatricians, gynaecologists and psychiatrists.
Registration is free for people working in the NHS and can be accessed by logging on to www.e-lfh.org.uk then choosing projects, then Adolescent Health.
Adolescent Health Award
An Adolescent Health Award has been announced in memory of Dr Kathy Phipps, a member of the Adolescent Task Group who tragically died last year.
The award aims to celebrate and highlight an innovative example of work to improve adolescent health and will be presented at the RCGP AGM later this year.
Entries must be submitted by 17 July 2009.
Youth Health Talk
Youthhealthtalk.org (and Healthtalkonline.org, the parallel resource that examines adult patient experiences of illness) is a rigorously researched collection of interviews, representing a broad spectrum of experiences of certain conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and teenage cancer.
For anyone newly diagnosed, or perhaps someone concerned about a relative with the condition, it can provide useful information about what to expect and how other people have coped with their condition or treatment.
A website that is familiar to many young people is www.teenagehealthfreak.org; it is an accessible and reliable place for medical information and advice. Covering a broad range of topics, young people can even post their own questions to Dr Ann, and a reply will be posted on the site from a qualified adviser.
Association for Young People's Health
The movement to raise the profile of adolescent health includes establishing the Association for Young People's Health.
This promotes dissemination of information relating to young people's health, promotes research and training and aims to broaden knowledge of best practice to enable service development. Anyone who has an interest in adolescent health is encouraged to join.
RCGP members who have a particular interest in adolescent health may also be interested in contacting the Adolescent Task Group, through the RCGP.
Young people are our future and so it is encouraging to have this array of services to help us provide them with the best of healthcare.
- Dr Pryke is a GP and trainer in Redditch, Worcestershire. She is a member of the RCGP Adolescent Task Group and co-author of the weight and obesity module of the e-LfH Adolescent Health project
- Further information and submission of entries can be sent to Dr Dick Churchill at Dick.Churchill@nottingham.ac.uk