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Few things are more personal than information about our bodies and our health. The information patients share with their health care provider is often sensitive, even embarrassing. Patients expect that it will be kept private. If that privacy is not guaranteed, they may be reluctant to seek care or treatment.

Confidentiality is also important for health care providers. To deliver accurate diagnosis and treatment, the provider must have all relevant information from the patient. If the patient fears that such information will be made public, s/he may not divulge all the necessary facts.

Confidential health services are essential in promoting teens’ health. Adolescents are at a critical stage of development, both physically and emotionally, and are beginning to establish their own identity and autonomy. Teens experiencing depression, rage, suicidal thoughts, sexually transmitted disease (STD), pregnancy, or sexual abuse may pose a grave danger to themselves or those around them. A health care professional can help enormously by encouraging screening and treatment.

The health care provider’s duty of confidentiality becomes complicated when the interests of an adolescent’s parents or guardian must be factored into the provider-patient relationship. The parents’ financial responsibility for, and guiding role in, raising their children and the state’s interest in protecting family autonomy are concerns the health care provider must respect. Health care providers must also balance parents’ and minors’ interests while keeping in mind laws that govern confidentiality and that mandate parental notification.

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