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The Hospitalized Adolescent

February 20, 2023

Sarah Perkins is an adult with cerebral palsy. She has worked as a multidisciplinary team member with Boston Children’s Hospital as part of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau Collaboration for Innovation and Improvement Network (CoIIN) to Advance the Care of Children with Medical Complexity. - Cara L. Coleman, JD, MPH, Associate Editor, Family Partnerships, Pediatrics

Family Connections with Pediatrics
Growing up and going through adolescence (11-20 years of age) is an important part of human development. Seeking medical care is part of everyday life regardless of age or general health. But what happens when these two things occur at the same time? It can be especially challenging if medical care requires a teen to stay in the hospital away from friends, school, and family. This month’s Pediatrics features the AAP Policy Statement, “The Hospitalized Adolescent,” by Breuner et al that explains some of the unique challenges and opportunities that are faced by providers, patients, families, and peers (10.1542/peds.2022-060646). This policy statement is the first published statement in the US on this topic.

The authors provide evidence-based information and discuss how a hospitalization affects an adolescent and what it can mean to their social and emotional development. Special care is given to the topics of confidentiality, respect, and trust.

What Types of Information Does the Policy Statement Include?

  • Clear and consistent communication with a patient is just as important as the communication between the medical home (the outpatient practice where that patient gets routine care) and hospital team.
  • Patients should be involved in as much of their care as possible. Many states provide ways for children to give permission for their own care in the hospital.
  • School is often central to an adolescent’s life. Being able to keep up with their classmates though schoolwork is a way they can have control during their hospital stay.
  • Ideally, adolescents receive care in a unit staffed by people from multiple fields (doctors, nurses, child life specialists, etc.) with experience caring for adolescents. Very few of these people with expertise in working with adolescents exist in many hospitals.

What Can You Do with This AAP Policy Statement?

  1. Share this policy with as many of your child’s doctors as possible. Use it to talk about unique aspects of adolescent care. This AAP Policy Statement might not only help you talk about issues, such as with development or confidentiality, right now but also help you begin discussions about transition planning to an adult care team.
  2. Use it to talk to your teen about their medical care. Ask them about their experiences during a recent hospital stay and what matters most to them. Encourage them to participate in their own care in as many ways as they are comfortable and able to.
  3. Ask your child’s doctor or other health care professionals who help during a hospital stay, such as child life, about the resources that are available to help ensure daily activities like school, social opportunities, and hobbies continue when your older child is being hospitalized.
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