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The fate of older adolescent patients in paediatric clinics is either one of transfer to adult services, long term retention in the paediatric clinic, or discharge from medical supervision, either voluntarily or by neglect. Neither simple transfer to adult doctors nor allowing adolescents to “drop out” of medical care is now acceptable quality care for young people with chronic illness. Arranging efficient and caring transfer for adolescents from paediatric to adult care is one of the great challenges facing paediatrics—and indeed the health services—in the coming century.1
Many illnesses once considered to be confined to childhood, such as cystic fibrosis and metabolic conditions, must now be thought of as diseases that begin in childhood but continue into adult life. Paediatric and adult medicine differ greatly in their approach to issues of growth, development, patient agency, and involvement of the family—differences that may become more noticeable with the recent separation of paediatricians from the Royal College of Physicians in the UK. Adolescents sit poorly between the family centred, developmentally focused, paediatric paradigm (which frequently ignores their growing independence and increasingly adult behaviour) and the adult medical culture, which acknowledges patient autonomy, reproduction, and employment issues but neglects growth, development, and family concerns.2
The simple matter of transferring care to adult physicians has been challenged in the past decade by the notion of “transition”, emphasising the need for the change to adult care to be a guided educational and therapeutic process, rather than an administrative event.3 To achieve effective transition, it must be recognised that transition in health care is but one part of the wider transition from dependent child to independent adult and that, in moving from child centred to adult health services, young people undergo a change that is systemic and cultural, as well as clinical.2 …
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