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Primary care confidentiality for Spanish adolescents: fact or fiction?


Background: By providing healthcare to adolescents, a major opportunity is created to help them cope with the challenges in their lives, develop healthy behaviour and become responsible healthcare consumers. Confidentiality is a major issue in adolescent healthcare, and its perceived absence may be the main barrier to an adolescent seeking medical care. Little is known, however, about confidentiality for adolescents in primary care practices in Spain.

Objective: To ascertain the attitudes of Spanish family doctors towards the right of adolescents to confidentiality in different healthcare situations and in the prescription of treatment.

Method: A descriptive postal questionnaire was self-administered by family doctors.

Results: Parents of patients under 18 years are always informed by 18.5% of family doctors, whereas parents of those under 16 years are informed by 38.8% of doctors. The patients are warned of this likelihood by 79.3% of doctors. The proportion of doctors supporting confidentiality for adolescents increases with the age and maturity of the patients, whereas workload and previous training has a negative effect.

Conclusions: Spanish laws on adolescent healthcare are not reflected by the paternalistic attitude that Spanish primary care doctors have towards their adolescent patients. Doctors need to be provided with up-to-date and clinically relevant explanations on contemporary legal positions. In primary care, more attention should be paid to adolescents’ rights to information, privacy and confidentiality. Doctors should be more aware of the need to encourage communication between teenagers and their parents, while also safeguarding their patients’ rights to confidential care.

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