BETTER INTEGRATION

By Professor Lin Perry
  • Our teenagers are struggling to have their unique needs met in a health system built to serve adults and children.
  • As a result, their engagement is low which leads to poorer health outcomes at a cost to themselves, the community, and the economy.
  • What we need is a system of teenage-centred, integrated health services in which teenagers are supported to be active participants in their own health, establishing positive behaviours that set them up for long, healthy lives.

WHAT IS IT?

Currently, health services are built to serve adults and children as separate population groups - but how do they serve teenagers? Most healthcare workers will modify their practices to cater for individual teenage patients but, more often than not, teenagers are cared for in environments where the resources and expertise are tailored to patients either much younger or older than they are. This can be an uncomfortable experience for teenagers, and can also mean that the treatment they receive is not appropriate to their needs. 

In addition to this, the fragmentation of the health system means that patients are often required to see different specialists on different days and to manage these relationships via a system of referrals linked to their GP. These issues, experienced by all patients, are particularly challenging for teenagers and their parents as they negotiate time away from work and study. Worse, it risks communication failure, where teenagers can get ‘lost’ in the system. 

The net result for teenagers is a poor experience that often fails to achieve the best outcomes. 

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

The Teenage Decade is the time when we experiment with lifestyle choices and ultimately establish the habits that can last a lifetime. Good healthcare experiences that lead to sustained healthy behaviours in the teenage years set us up for long, healthy lives. 

However, teenagers do not fare well in our current health services. Health service data reveal high levels of ‘non-compliance’ among teenagers. This low engagement has knock-on effects, ultimately being linked to high usage of health services and poorer health, at a personal cost to the individual, and a steep social and economic cost to the community.

The solution is to establish teenage-centred, integrated health services in which young people are consulted on their care and facilitated to make good choices. Having been involved in those choices, they will be more likely to adhere to them, optimising their recovery and establishing positive patterns for future health behaviours. The benefits to the individual will be matched by the benefits to the community with the delivery of health services that are more efficient, more effective and more cost-effective.

WHAT NOW?

WH&Y have a vision for a health system that recognises adolescence as a unique phase of the life cycle, and provides dedicated health services that empower and support teenagers to experience the best possible health in adolescence, providing a foundation for healthy adult lives. We want to see young people being cared for by people who understand teenage lifestyles, pressures and priorities; who have the knowledge, skills and attitudes to implement age-appropriate treatments; and who can communicate effectively and with empathy. 

Around the world, we are seeing more and more real-life examples of this approach, including: 

  • one-stop shop services, where a doctor, nurse and allied health professional can all be seen on one day at a single location; 

  • care pathways that integrate public, private, charitable and voluntary providers; 

  • use of telehealth, so specialist consultations occur locally or in the home; 

  • monitoring devices that share data, communicating automatically between adolescents and healthcare providers; 

  • common, unitary health records accessible to all providers, so a GP visit or a test from a private lab is reported and visible whether they happen in Queensland or Queenstown; 

  • personalised medicine, enabling medications to be targeted to the individual. 

WH&Y is currently generating evidence to demonstrate how health experiences in the Teenage Decade impact the decades that follow, and undertaking financial modelling to reveal the true cost of failing to improve teenage healthcare now.

Professor Lin Perry

Lin Perry is Professor of Nursing Research and Practice Development with the University of Technolog...