The rights of minors

July 7, 2006

Many of the teenage patients who come to our ob/gyn practice, located in Georgia, don't want us to release information to their parents about pregnancy tests and other gynecological matters. However, their parents find out about their visits anyway, when they see the EOBs that their health plans send out. At that point, the parents call us, demanding to know why we saw their daughter without their consent. As physicians, are we required to speak to the parent of a minor regarding contraception and other issues or is our first obligation to honor the wishes of our patients, even if they are minors?

Q: Many of the teenage patients who come to our ob/gyn practice, located in Georgia, don't want us to release information to their parents about pregnancy tests and other gynecological matters. However, their parents find out about their visits anyway, when they see the EOBs that their health plans send out. At that point, the parents call us, demanding to know why we saw their daughter without their consent. As physicians, are we required to speak to the parent of a minor regarding contraception and other issues or is our first obligation to honor the wishes of our patients, even if they are minors?

A: The right to control or restrict information generally goes hand-in-hand with the right to consent to treatment, which a minor (typically, anyone under 18) doesn't typically enjoy. But in some situations, minors do enjoy these rights. For example, nearly half the states-including your own state of Georgia-permit minors to consent to contraceptive care. In these states, minors also have the corresponding right to refuse to share this information with anyone else, including their parents. As a physician, you must respect this right, whether or not parents find out on their own.

If you elect to (this isn't a requirement), you may inform a minor seeking contraception that your office will bill the service to her parents' or someone else's medical insurance and that that policyholder will receive an EOB alerting her to the care provided.