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Protecting Privacy During Virtual Health Care Visits for Adolescents

Protecting Privacy During Virtual Health Care Visits for Adolescents

By Lauren Ranalli, MPH | August 2, 2023
Director of Marketing & Communications, ETR

Virtual visits and telemedicine have become more readily available since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The flexibility and accessibility of virtual health care can be particularly appealing to adolescent patients.1 As with in-person health care visits, the key elements of adolescent-centered care should be implemented when seeing patients remotely.

By doing this successfully, we can empower young people to actively participate in their health care. Ensuring that young people have positive interactions with their healthcare providers can lead to more preventive visits and lifelong engagement in their health and well-being.1

4 Tips to Improve Privacy of Virtual Healthcare Visits

“Ensuring privacy is key to providing adolescent-centered care. It’s important to keep in mind that privacy is even more critical during virtual care, as the provider often cannot tell who is within earshot of the young person.”- Azzia Thompson, Project Coordinator, ETR

With in-person visits, health center staff have the ability to make their exam rooms and check-in processes private, but that control is minimized during virtual visits. Here are some things you can do to keep the virtual visit as private as possible:

  • Be sure to ask the adolescent if they feel like they are in a private space to participate in the virtual visit. If not ask if they can move their device to another location or provide a sound barrier, such as radio background music or background noise from the TV, to decrease the likelihood of being overheard.
  • If privacy is still a concern and the patient is unable to find another accommodating space, consider changing from a video visit to a phone visit. Phone visits can be easier since they do not need to connect to a Wi-Fi network. This will give patients the flexibility to go to the car, take a walk in the neighborhood, or move to another location.  
  • If a caregiver or anyone else is present with the adolescent, ask them to leave for a portion of the visit, as is standard in many health center practices when seeing young people over a certain age.
  • Trust your patients if they tell you they are in a private space, even if you are unsure. You may see someone in the background or hear other voices, but ultimately it is up to the young person’s discretion what feels comfortable for them.

Discussing the Limitations of Confidentiality

“Confidentiality is still a top priority for adolescents accessing care virtually.” – Lauren Vasquez, Senior Program Specialist, Adolescent Health Initiative 

Discussing the confidentiality limitations of virtual visits with patients is critical to providing adolescent-centered care. Some things to consider:  

  • Which primary care services can they access virtually?  
  • Which health care services can minors consent to in your state? Does this include reproductive health services and mental health services?  
  • How will the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) be displayed for confidential services?

Many health centers create parent-proxy accounts so that parents or caregivers can be informed partners in their child’s health and well-being. With parent-proxy accounts, healthcare providers can still ensure that any confidential information in the electronic medical record system, such as minor-consented visits, provider notes, or test results, is limited by marking it as confidential or using discreet coding for confidential services when possible. Be sure to consult with your health center team on what confidentiality practices are available in your online records.  

Additional Resources  

Looking for additional ways to support young people during their healthcare visits? You can view this free webinar, 3 in 30: Providing Adolescent-Centered Virtual Care, to learn 3 tips in 30 minutes for use in your clinic or organization.  

And also, check out this Starter Guide from the Adolescent Health Initiative, which includes operating procedures and workflows for best practices in pediatric telehealth recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Lauren Ranalli, MPH (she/her/hers) is a public health professional and the Director of Marketing and Communications at ETR. She can be reached at

1: DeJonckheere M, Zhao A, Lane J, Plegue M, Ranalli L, Wagner E, Riley M. Results of a National Text Message Poll: Perspectives on Primary Care. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2020 

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