Adolescent Care Takes Time
Doctors Leonard Pittala, DO, and Eve Krahn, MD, both with Meritas Health Pediatrics, have made it their practice to focus on preteens and teenagers, a patient population that takes additional time and effort to thoroughly care for.
"We make it our business to stay current on the ever-changing vaccination and screening requirements and recommendations for this population as it's a huge part of preventive medicine," says Dr. Pittala. "We also delve into the psycho-social development of each patient."
Off the Radar
Dr. Pittala says that studies show teens fall off the healthcare radar because they are generally a healthy group. He and Dr. Krahn encourage an annual "well child" appointment every year so they can help manage the patient's healthcare, monitor his growth, make recommendations on vaccinations and screenings, and build a trusting relationship with the teen. "If I only see a child every 2 to 4 years when they contract a virus or need a sports physical, they are less likely to talk with me when they have healthcare needs of a sexual or behavioral nature," Dr. Pittala says.
Dr. Krahn agrees: "We take the time necessary to have a thorough visit with our teen population; these appointments often take 30 minutes. We are trained to ask the right questions to get these kids to open up to us. We can't educate or help them with their healthcare if they don't trust us." Dr. Krahn asks hard questions including those about sexual activity, high-risk behaviors including drug and alcohol use, depression, eating disorders and lifestyle choices such as sleep habits.
"Nearly 20% of kids suffer from depression or anxiety."
Eve Krahn, MD
Sleep is a big area of concern with today's teen. Sleep deprivation from social media, electronics and manmade light leads to a variety of symptoms including migraine headaches. "Depression is another area we screen," says Krahn. "Nearly 20% of kids suffer from depression or anxiety but less than 20% of those affected seek help."
"Kids eat up information," Dr. Pittala says. "When they know you care and they feel listened to, they are very open and receptive to physician recommendations." Meritas Health Pediatrics has plans to have a psychologist on-site in the near future.
"While many kids have issues with being overweight, I see just as many patients who are on the path to anorexia or bulimia," Dr. Pittala added. "We want to identify and intervene before their behaviors become a pattern." To help with nutrition education, Meritas Health Pediatrics has a dietitian on-site one day a week.
A study in Pediatric News found that one-third of visits with adolescent patients did not include the topic of sexuality. When discussions did take place, they lasted an average of 36 seconds and included little input from the patients.
Another unrelated study reported that 25% of new HIV cases are diagnosed in high school-aged kids each year. "We estimate that 50% of teens are sexually active so we use a variety of tools including a questionnaire to help teens talk about their issues,” says Dr. Krahn. We are nonjudgmental, frank and comfortable talking about the hard topics with our teenage patients."
Physicians at Meritas Health Pediatrics care for patients from infants through their early 20s. They take many steps to make teens feel comfortable, listened to and secure, including asking parents upfront for approval to talk privately with patients, and offering resources for free or lower-cost services.
To learn more, call 816.421.4115.
Leonard Pittala, DO, FAAP
Dr. Pittala earned his medical degree and completed his pediatrics residency at the University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Kansas City, Missouri. His areas of interest include adolescents, allergies, asthma and healthy lifestyle education.
Eve Krahn, MD
Dr. Krahn received her medical degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and completed a pediatrics residency at Children's Medical Center at UT Southwestern in Dallas. Her medical interests include adolescent girls.