Once a week, the crayons and stickers in the pediatric examination rooms are gone, posters about teen concerns are up and magazines like Jane and Wired are out instead of Dr. Seuss books.
The changeover takes place every Wednesday at the Reston Medical Center, except the second Wednesday when the extra office space at the Loudoun Medical Center in Lansdowne also becomes a Kaiser Permanente teen clinic. The Loudoun and Reston teen clinics address health care, behavioral health problems and medicine needs specific to adolescents, basing care on the theme of prevention.
“They are a unique population because they have a need for preventative care and counseling to avoid negative behavior,” said Carol Forester, pediatric and adolescent medicine physician in Loudoun and Reston for the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. Forester serves as the only physician at the Loudoun and Reston teen clinics, also known as teen sessions, and is one of about 12 adolescent physicians in the Mid-Atlantic region working through Kaiser.
“Teens need providers that understand where they’re coming from, that can relate to them, that are familiar with the common conditions seen in teenagers,” said Forester, who sees about eight to 12 patients per session at the teen clinics. “There should be providers specialized in the different stages of development.”
KAISER PERMANENTE defines adolescence as beginning between the ages of 11 and 13 and extending through 21 or even 25 years of age. “It’s a psychological stage,” Forester said.
The teen clinics provide routine checkups, gynecological examinations, pregnancy prevention services and other medical services for adolescents. The clinics address adolescent behavioral health problems such as depression, anxiety, adolescent attention disorders, eating disorders and substance abuse, and medical problems such as acne.
“A lot of these issues with teens … aren’t diagnosed until the patient is pretty far into the condition or disease,” said Sheri Singer, spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente, adding that teen physicians are trained to detect symptoms for teen behavior and other health problems.
At new appointments, Forester asks patients to fill out a survey with questions on developmental, personal and teen issues, a survey she may give again at her later appointments.
“It’s a lot easier to start out the appointment with writing down things that are usually uncomfortable to discuss or even admit to,” said Fairfax resident Suzanna Publicker, 17, who has been seeing Forester at the Reston teen clinic for more than three years. “It’s not like an old doctor sitting over you telling you what you should do. She knows what you’re going through. She keeps up to date on a lot of teen issues.”
FORESTER AIMS to keep communication open with the teens by giving them a place to ask questions. “We want to give them guidance and counseling on what to do, how to avoid unhealthy behaviors,” she said. “When teenagers don’t have someone they can go to, they tend to not get health care.”
Forester often “chit-chats” with the teens for a few minutes at each of the clinic sessions. “I love talking to the teens and getting to know them and getting to be their friends,” she said.
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Lemasters said Forester talks to her like a friend, not as a “doctor figure.” Lemasters, who lives in Lovettsville, has been a regular patient of Forester’s for the past two years, but has not seen her during any of the teen clinics. “I feel I can tell her stuff and know that she’s not going to jump on me. … She’s a great doctor. She’s awesome. I’ve gone through a lot of doctors. I never felt comfortable around them. … I can go to her about anything.”