Focus on Youth Concerns at Well Visits

Heidi Splete

May 11, 2021

Taking teens' strengths, values, and dreams, into account through a previsit questionnaire was acceptable to them and may promote discussions with providers, based on data from 91 adolescents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Bright Futures initiative recommends the use of a strength-based approach for adolescent well visits, but the extensive positive psychology inventories to identify teen strengths and values are impractical for the clinical visit setting, wrote Yidan Cao, MPH, of the Child Development through Primary Care at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues. However, 76% of youth participating in focus groups responded that "using a confidential questionnaire about a teen's strengths and goals before checkup visits would be a good addition to health care for teens," the researchers said.

In a study presented in a poster session (#515) at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, the researchers recruited 91 community youth to participate in 13 focus groups related to teen depression and substance use. The age of the focus group participants ranged from 12 to 18 years, with an average of 15 years, 61.5% were female, and 1.1% identified as transgender. The racial breakdown was 51.6% White, 27.5% African American, 8.8% Asian, 2.2% Native American, 3.3% biracial, and 6.6% unknown.

The participants provided information on potential questionnaire items for an online previsit screening for well visits to assess strengths and identify values, goals, dream jobs, and life wishes.

Suggestions from the participants informed changes to the questionnaire, which included five categories: personal/social goals, goals for academics/training, strengths, values, and dream jobs.

The top endorsed personal goal of "to be happy" was chosen by 13.1% of the participants. The top academic goal was "get good grades" (45.5%). The top endorsed strength was "fitness/coordination/sports/physical activity" (22.9%), while the top value was caring and kindness (25.8%), and the top dream job category was health/medical (30.8%).

Key comments made by the youth participants for improving the previsit questionnaire included adding an option for "I can't decide," and allowing for multiple responses to avoid feeling pinned down or judged, the researchers noted.

The researchers highlighted one teen comment: "While I understand the purpose of limiting the participants to two answers, it is incredibly difficult to only choose two. Being limited to two very much restricts your understanding of our values. For example, I would've also liked to select 'to do well in school' and 'to make a difference,' but 'being happy' and 'being loving to all those around me' had to take precedent."

The study was limited by not being fully generalizable to all teens, as other teens may hold views and beliefs that differ from those of the focus group participants, the researchers noted.

However, the findings support the value of a strength-based previsit questionnaire for adolescents, they said.

"Structured previsit data could facilitate relationship building and be actionable for assigning strength and resiliency building resources," they noted. "A final strengths and goals questionnaire is now being piloted in computerized form contributing to decision supports for suggested teleprompters and associated resource options," and future research may show the value of such previsit data for improved clinical process and outcomes of youth well visits, they concluded.

Recognize the Uncertainty of Adolescence

"Adolescents are at crossroads of identity, trying to figure out who they are, their goals and values," said Kelly A. Curran, MD, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, in an interview. "Adolescence is also a critical time when teens have more control and choice over behaviors that impact their health, such as diet, exercise, substance use, and sexual activity. In this critical time period, clinicians can intervene on health-related behaviors and shape the trajectory of a teen's life. However, to promote teen health, pediatricians need to have their patients' trust, which can be hard to gain," she emphasized.

"In my practice, I've found that teens often just want to be seen and heard," said Curran. "Teens often have many adults in their life who focus on the 'don'ts' — don't use drugs, don't have sex, for example — and few that praise healthy behaviors or strengths, or seek to understand what is important to them. By listening to teens and understanding what's important to them, we can then use motivational interviewing techniques to help create meaningful change in health-related behaviors. However, this takes time and investment, which is often in conflict with time pressures in the modern medical system.

"This study is useful because it examined the acceptability of a positive psychology questionnaire to be used at well visits when reviewed by youth, that could be used to streamline this important process," said Curran.

"From my practice, I know that understanding a teen's goals, values, and strengths is important — we do this daily in our practice when working with patients — but it was exciting to see that youth found it acceptable to do this via a previsit survey, which can potentially streamline well visits," she noted.

The questionnaire is being developed as a pilot program, but more research is needed to determine the direct clinical impact, said Curran. "It will be important in the future to see if implementation of this questionnaire can be helpful in integrating this information into motivational interviewing and rapport building to help improve teens' health outcomes."

The study was supported in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health. Two coauthors have a financial interest in the CHADIS online reporting program used in the study. Curran had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This story originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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