Typically, my routine for teen patients (but also for adults who come with spouses) is do the initial part of the visit with everyone in the room. But then I tell the accompanying person that I need them to step outside so that we can have some additional private time. During that time, I may ask additional questions (aka: sex, drug, rock and roll questions, as I like to call them) or probe issues that I might be worried about (abuse, mental health, etc) that the patient may not reveal with an audience. Then, I pull the parent or other person back into the room when we finish up and talk about concerns that the patient is OK with me discussing together.
Now I know that not all Doctors have the same routine, so there are a few things you can try:
- Tell your parent before you go to the visit that you know you need to learn to manage your own care as an adult, and that you would like to start doing that by having some alone time with your Doctor. If your Doctor does not ask your parent to step out for a minute, then your parent, after having the nice conversation with you, can volunteer to give you a few minutes alone with your Doctor. I really encourage all teens to talk with your parents, although I know that for some, they are unable to go to them for all questions.
- If your parent is not receptive to that, you can call your Doctor in advance of your appointment and let her know that you would like the opportunity to talk to her alone as part of your visit. This would give her a heads-up to ask your parent to step out for a few minutes. Now remember, your Doctor will not be able to answer the phone immediately, so you will leave a message. Since it won’t be an emergency, she may take a day or two to call you back, so call a few days to a week in advance to give her enough time.
- Lastly, part of what Doctors do in addition to seeing patients in the office, is answer phone calls (or sometimes even emails). So, if those two suggestions don’t work, you can always call her to ask your questions.
Now a few notes – each state has different adolescent confidentiality laws – meaning that what you discuss is private and not shared with anyone. Your Doctor will be aware of the laws that cover this issue in your state. Most states allow for adolescents to receive mental health care and reproductive health care without requiring adult permission, but this can vary.
Separate from the laws themselves, there are a few things that your Doctor will have to reveal in order to protect your safety. If you are feeling suicidal, she may need to share that information in order to get you the care that you need. Also, if you are a victim of abuse and are a minor, most states require that to be reported as well, so that you can be safe.
Now, before I end, a note for parents who might be reading this: