MONDAY, Nov. 22 (HealthDay News) -- If teens' desires for health care privacy aren't respected, their care could be compromised, a new study suggests.

Teens are cautious about revealing sensitive information to health care providers for fear of being judged, and are reluctant to talk to unfamiliar or multiple medical staff, according to researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The researchers conducted 12 focus groups for 54 teenagers and found that keeping health care information private was their most important issue. They also found that younger teens were more likely than older adolescents to want parental involvement. In fact, some older adolescents said they might avoid a health care visit to prevent information being shared with their parents.

Among the other findings:

  • Teens of all ages said they would not discuss sensitive topics with health care providers if they thought the provider would judge them or "jump to conclusions."
  • Younger teens said they did not have personal discussions with providers they didn't know or like, or if they believed the provider did not need to know the information.
  • Only younger adolescents said they had concerns about violations of physical privacy.
  • Kids with chronic illnesses better understood and accepted the need to share information with health care providers.

The study was published online Nov. 22 in the journal Pediatrics.

Doctors and other health care professionals need to make it as easy as possible for teens to share information, and need to respect their readiness or reluctance to disclose information, said lead author and adolescent medicine physician Dr. Maria Britto.

"If the information isn't urgent, such as a routine health visit, providers may be better off waiting to ask sensitive questions until they know the teen better and can get better information once they've established trust," Britto said in a hospital news release.

"If they do need information because it will impact diagnosis or treatment, then there are many things they can attend to that may make the adolescent more comfortable disclosing information," she added.

These approaches include asking permission to discuss sensitive issues, telling the teens why it is important for them to ask personal questions, and increasing privacy during physical exams.

"Providers should discuss with adolescents the availability of their medical information to other medical professionals to improve quality of care or operations," Britto suggested. "In this way, the patient can understand and feel more comfortable with the process and be less likely to see it as a privacy violation."

More information

The Nemours Foundation explains how parents can give teens a voice in health care decisions.