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J Adolesc Health. 2009 Jun;44(6):520-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.12.016. Epub 2009 Mar 12.

Are adolescents being screened for emotional distress in primary care?

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Division of Adolescent Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California Street, Suite 245, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA.



To assess primary care providers' rates of screening for emotional distress among adolescent patients.


Secondary data analysis utilizing data from: (1) well visits in pediatric clinics within a managed care plan in California, and (2) the 2003 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), a state population sample. The Pediatric clinic sample included 1089 adolescent patients, ages 13 to 17, who completed a survey about provider screening immediately upon exiting a well visit. The CHIS sample included 899 adolescents, ages 13 to 17, who had a routine physical exam within the past 3 months. As part of the survey, adolescents answered a question about whether they had talked with their provider about their emotions at the time of the exam. Logistic regressions, controlling for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and adolescent depressive symptoms were performed.


About one-third of adolescents reported a discussion of emotional health. Females were significantly more likely to be screened than males (36% vs. 30% in clinic; 37% vs. 26% in CHIS); as were older and Latino adolescents in the clinic sample. Although 27% of teens endorsed emotional distress, distress was not a significant predictor of talking to a provider about emotions.


Primary care clinicians/systems need to better utilize the primary care visit to screen adolescents for emotional health.

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