18 tips on how to create a teen-friendly environment

Interested in operating teen clinic hours in your facility? Following are suggestions from Linda St. Clair, adolescent health access coordinator, and Robyn Achilles, MPH, public health educator and coordinator for the Northshore Teen Clinic in Bothell, WA; and from Bobbie Anderson, MHA, executive director of Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, and Jonna Sherrill, MA, director of the Boulder center’s Teen Clinic:

1. Wallet cards say a lot in a small space. They may look small, but wallet cards are big enough to include a map, list of services, operation hours, street address, and telephone numbers, and they can be discreetly tucked in a pocket or purse. Be sure to emphasize "Teens Only" and the availability of free or low-cost services.

2. Use signs to direct traffic to your spot. The Boulder clinic places a stand-up sign (much like a realtor’s "for sale" sign) out front on Teen Clinic days and covers its front door sign with one announcing, "Teen Clinic."

3. Designate a special area for sign-in and use individual sign-in sheets. Let teens write down their reason for visiting so they don’t have to "announce," "I’m here for an STD check" or "I need a pregnancy test."

4. Change the canned music to teen-friendly tunes. The Northshore clinic has made arrange-ments with a local compact disk retailer to provide popular music for use in the Teen Clinic waiting area.

5. Scoop up the women’s magazines and replace them with teen magazines. Teens aren’t interested in reading Working Woman or Parenting. Put out some reading material they will enjoy.

If you have a problem with some of the images promoted in popular teen magazines, check out other alternatives. Sherrill suggests Hip Mama, a magazine published in Oakland, CA. (For ordering information, see source box, p. 130.)

6. Take down the baby pictures and put up some posters. Pictures of babies abound at health departments. Cover them up. Consider tacking teen-friendly posters over them.

7. Provide entertaining videos and coloring books. A relaxed atmosphere in the waiting room can help ease teens’ anxieties. Videos can help pass the time, and coloring books and crayons provide an outlet for creative urges.

8. What’s the magic word? Food! Teens are known for their appetites. Light snacks, such as popcorn and lemonade, are easy, low-cost, and sure to please teen palates.

9. Colorful condoms in clear barrels add visual interest and provide access. Teens enjoy looking through the "condom container" to make their protection selections. Be sure to put out paper bags so they can discreetly carry their condoms home, and don’t forget to put extra condoms in the exam rooms so those who are too shy to visit the container will pick up protection before they leave.

10. Use educational material adapted to teens’ special needs. The Boulder Teen Clinic has adapted what it terms its "annual packet" to include special information for teens, with brochures on date rape and other current topics.

11. Mirror the population: Staff your clinic front desk with young people. Teens relate best to young staff members, since they may view those in their mid-40s as being from their parents’ generation. The Boulder teen clinic uses volunteers from the local university’s women’s studies department to staff the front desk.

12. Allocate one staffer to help teens fill out Medicaid forms. If adults find medical assistance paperwork daunting, imagine how teens feel. The Northshore teen clinic has one worker who is assigned to the waiting area for this particular purpose.

13. When going into the community, don’t forget to talk with the men. The Boulder clinic has made presentations to local high school athletic teams, as well as other youth groups. Sherrill offers basic information on the clinic’s services and distributes a tri-fold brochure and wallet cards to help teens locate the clinic.

14. Bring a picture board of staff members when making presentations. Teens want to see who works at the teen clinic. Help them get to know the staff by showing pictures during your presentations to high schools and other youth groups.

15. Develop personal relationships with referral agencies. It’s one thing to provide teens with a resource list for community services, but it’s more effective to actually know the people involved in the referral chain. Plus, referral agencies can return the favor by sending teens to your site.

16. Encourage teens to bring their friends. Teens are more comfortable when they have a few friends in tow, so make room in your waiting area for them. Today’s tag-along friend may well turn into next week’s patient.

17. Get feedback through comment books, surveys, and advisory boards. The Northshore clinic uses a comment book, placed in the waiting area, to record responses to the teen services, plus it conducts weekly surveys on various service aspects. The Boulder clinic has a teen advisory board that meets each month to get feedback on services.

18. Ready to start your own clinic? Fine-tune your services with a mock clinic. Check out your clinic services before you open — set up a mock clinic to make sure operations are in order before you open the doors. Recruit some teens to role-play as patients and have them walk through the clinic. Once they are in the exam room, explain what you would do in a normal exam and let them provide feedback on what other information may be pertinent.