A new Web-based resource aims to help health care providers better engage adolescent and young-adult male patients and address their unique health issues.
Adolescent boys and young-adult males do not see doctors or access the health care system nearly as much as teen girls and young women -- and that gap has significant health consequences for guys throughout their lives, says a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
To help health care providers better serve young men and teens, The Partnership for Male Youth today is launching a free, Web-based clinical toolkit.
"No one has done this before focused on this population group," says Dennis Barbour, executive director of the partnership and co-founder of its parent group, The Boys Initiative.
Research shows that boys are at higher risk than their female contemporaries for suicide, ADHD diagnosis, substance abuse, homicide, accidental injury and certain sexually transmitted diseases, among other conditions, says Barbour.
Based on interviews with more than 100 medical experts and additional research, the kit contains practice tools and references, questionnaires, checklists and a video library for screening and assessment of risk in nine major areas: healthy eating and physical activity; sexual and reproductive health; trauma; substance use disorders; mental health; developmental disorders; sexual biologic basics; normal pubertal concerns; genital abnormalities; and tests and immunizations.
"We know that there are a lot of conditions that are important to treat in adolescence, and if they're not detected or treated then they can have serious consequences later," says psychiatrist Lois Flaherty, president-elect of the International Society for Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology and a member of the advisory council behind the new toolkit.
A key goal of the toolkit is "to help get people to pay attention" to the disparities, says Flaherty.
"Many clinicians across the country are very comfortable with and understand how to engage young women in health care services, whether it's primary care or related to their sexual and reproductive health," says adolescent medicine physician David Bell, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. "And there are guidelines as to what needs to happen at the visits for young women. However there aren't the same sort of guidelines overall about what to engage guys about," he says.
Bell, medical director of the Young Men's Clinic at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, is also a member of the Partnership's advisory council.
Part of the challenge, he says, is that after age 15, many teen boys stop visiting a primary care physician on a regular basis. When they do access the medical or health care system, "it's often through the emergency room." Teen girls, in contrast, increase their health care use "in the context of seeing clinicians for sexual and reproductive health issues," he says.
In spite of preconceptions that guys are uninterested or unwilling to discuss health issues, "if they get into a supportive, one-on-one environment, in my experience they will open up and engage in conversations about sexual and reproductive health, about mental health, about their general health overall," says Bell.
In communities across the country, a number of groups and organizations are doing related work focused on "intervening during adolescence so we can set the trajectory for better health outcomes for guys in adulthood," says Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a professor of social work and public health at New York University and co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health.
But Guilamo-Ramos, who is not involved in the new project, stresses that these efforts work best for adolescents when they involve parents. "Teens, both male and female, when asked how they make decisions about their health, over and over again put parents at the top of the list. Parents matter," he says.