Written by: Cally Worden
Medical problems can often feel embarrassing. Add into the mix the daily torment of adolescent awkwardness and you begin to understand why teens with medical issues find it so hard to share their problems. An assurance of confidentiality for teenagers can be a crucial factor in encouraging them to seek help for their emotional and bodily issues. Here is the low down on teen rights in respect of medical disclosures.
Will your Parents Find Out if you Visit the Doctor?
Our teens face many issues that they simply don’t want to discuss with Mum or Dad, including sexual troubles, birth control options, bullying, substance abuse. Your GP is there to help with all of these issues, but many teens fear that approaching their Doctor will create a direct line of disclosure to their parents. The simple facts are as follows:
18 and over
You are an adult, and no treatment or discussions you have with your Doctor can or must be shared with anyone else.
16-17 year olds
Your GP can offer the same level of confidentiality as an adult, provided that they consider you to be sufficiently competent and mature to make decisions about any treatment you are to receive. Discussions that do not result in treatment should remain confidential.
You are allowed to make your own decisions about your treatment provided:
- the Doctor thinks you are competent and understand all implications
- they cannot persuade you to discuss the issue with your parents, and
- that your health will suffer if you don’t receive treatment.
If these criteria are satisfied your GP cannot share details of your treatment with your parents. This includes issues relating to abortion and contraception.
You GP will not normally disclose the nature of any non-treatment related discussions to your parents. The only situation in which they would consider doing so is if they believe that there is an imminent and very serious threat to your health or well-being. Even then, your GP will always try to discuss this with your first.
Your GP is required by law to ask why you do not wish to discuss the issue with your parents, and will encourage you to do so. If you are adamant that you do not want your parents made aware of the issues, then your GP cannot force you to tell them.
What If I’m Spotted?
Being seen in the Doctor’s surgery, or in the chemist collecting a prescription is a risk that you simply have to take when visiting your GP for treatment. All members of staff at your GP surgery are bound by laws of confidentiality that prevent them from discussing any element of your treatment. They cannot even confirm or deny that you have visited the surgery for an appointment.
There is nothing you can do to stop yourself being spotted in the Doctor’s waiting room, or in the chemist, but the pharmacist is also bound by law to keep details of your prescriptions confidential, so nothing can or will be shared with your parents unless you give your permission.
Teens under the age of 16 especially, can be confident that in the vast majority of cases details of their concerns, care, and treatment WILL remain confidential unless they choose personally to share the details. This is reassuring. Helping your teen to be aware of their rights may just be enough to encourage them to take the plunge and seek help if they need it.