Male adolescent use of health care services: where are the boys?

Arik V Marcell, Jonathan D Klein, Ismor Fischer, Marjorie J Allan, Patricia K Kokotailo
Journal of Adolescent Health 2002, 30 (1): 35-43

PURPOSE: To describe patterns of health care use by adolescent males in the United States and clinical practice characteristics associated with their use of adolescent-specific programs.

METHODS: Secondary analysis of three national data sets to determine health care use by male adolescents: the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey [NAMCS (1994): pediatric, family physician, internal medicine, and obstetric/gynecologic outpatient visits]; National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey [NHAMCS (1994): outpatient department (OPD) and emergency department (ED) visits]; and Comprehensive Adolescent Health Services Survey [CAHSS (1995)]. Both NAMCS and NHAMCS are representative national probability samples. Total visit estimates by adolescents in 1994 to NAMCS sites were 387,076,630, to OPD sites were 6,511,244, and to ED sites were 13,161,824. For CAHSS, 468 programs (60% of eligible) participated. Data analyses were performed using two-tailed Student's t-tests and correlation testing.

RESULTS: Older male adolescents, aged 16-20 years, account for a lower percentage of total visits to NAMCS sites combined compared to younger males, aged 11-15 years (15.8% vs. 25.1%, p <.001), mainly owing to a significant decline in visits to pediatricians (3.2% vs. 14.9%, p <.001), despite significant increases in female health care use during the same time period. Younger males were seen at similar rates compared to females at NAMCS, NHAMCS-OPD and NHAMCS-ED sites, but older males account for a significantly lower percentage of total visits than females to all NAMCS sites combined (15.8% vs. 34.7%, p <.001), the NHAMCS-ED (26.4% vs. 31.5%, p <.05), and the NHAMCS-OPD (15.0% vs. 41.2%, p =.001). Among specialized adolescent sites (CAHSS), 13-19-year-old males account for fewer visits than females to all programs types: schools (40% vs. 60%), hospitals (33% vs. 67%), and community/health departments (25% vs. 75%) (all p's < or =.001). Clinical practice characteristics correlated with having a greater proportion of male adolescent visit varied depending on the types of adolescent program examined.

CONCLUSIONS: Younger male adolescents make health care visits in relatively equal proportions to females at all NAMCS and NHAMCS locations and visits by older males are significantly reduced. Male adolescent visits are lower than females at all adolescent-specific programs; school-based clinics see the highest proportion of males. Greater understanding of male adolescents' transition between providers from adolescence to adulthood is needed to improve care to male adolescents who under-use health services.

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