Interventions to improve the care of adolescents with long term health conditions as they transfer from child to adult health services.


‘Transition’ describes the process of planning and moving from children’s to adults’ services. If this process is not well managed, adolescents with long-term health conditions sometimes fall into a gap in services, which can lead to deterioration in their health.

Research question

This review assessed the effectiveness of interventions to improve the transition of care for adolescents with chronic conditions and ongoing healthcare needs, as they transferred from child to adult health services.

Study characteristics

We searched the literature up to 19 June 2015 and found four studies (N = 238 participants) for this review. The studies evaluated four different types of educational interventions, all targeting adolescents with different clinical conditions. All sought to improve knowledge and self-management skills of adolescents in preparation for transition to adult care.

Key Results

Three of the transitional-care programmes found that the intervention may slightly improve transitional readiness in young people, enabling them to better self-manage and adjust to using adult health services. One transitional-care programme that evaluated a two-day workshop for young people with spina bifida found little or no difference in measures of transitional readiness. Transitional-care programmes may slightly improve a young persons knowledge of their condition and their own appropriate use of health services. Transitional-care programmes led to little or no difference in health status, quality of life or well-being, or rates of transfer from child to adult health services.

Certainty of the evidence

While there is a wide range of transition programmes that are being developed in different countries, often within particular clinical specialties, this review only identified four small studies that provided low certainty evidence about educational interventions targeting participating adolescents, and no studies of interventions that targeted the organisation of care (for example, joint clinics or provision of a key worker). Other limitations with the evidence are the small number of adolescents recruited, the limited number of clinical conditions studied, the short follow up (12 months or less), and the fact that only two of the included studies reported on the primary outcome (that is, condition-specific clinical outcomes). Despite the challenges in designing studies that can test these types of interventions, such as evaluating a complex intervention, a stronger evidence base is needed to inform the development of these services.

Authors' conclusions: 

The available evidence (four small studies; N = 238), covers a limited range of interventions developed to facilitate transition in a limited number of clinical conditions, with only four to 12 months follow-up. These follow-up periods may not be long enough for any changes to become apparent as transition is a lengthy process. There was evidence of improvement in patients' knowledge of their condition in one study, and improvements in self-efficacy and confidence in another, but since few studies were eligible for this review, and the overall certainty of the body of this evidence is low, no firm conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness of the evaluated interventions. Further research is very likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the intervention effect and likely could change our conclusions. There is considerable scope for the rigorous evaluation of other models of transitional care, reporting on clinical outcomes with longer term follow-up.

Read the full abstract...

There is evidence that the process of transition from paediatric (child) to adult health services is often associated with deterioration in the health of adolescents with chronic conditions.Transitional care is the term used to describe services that seek to bridge this care gap. It has been defined as ‘the purposeful, planned movement of adolescents and young adults with chronic physical and medical conditions from child-centred to adult-oriented health care systems’. In order to develop appropriate services for adolescents, evidence of what works and what factors act as barriers and facilitators of effective interventions is needed.


To evaluate the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve the transition of care for adolescents from paediatric to adult health services.

Search strategy: 

We searched The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials 2015, Issue 1, (including the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group Specialised Register), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and Web of Knowledge to 19 June 2015. We also searched reference lists of included studies and relevant reviews, and contacted experts and study authors for additional studies.

Selection criteria: 

We considered randomised controlled trials (RCTs), controlled before- and after-studies (CBAs), and interrupted time-series studies (ITSs) that evaluated the effectiveness of any intervention (care model or clinical pathway), that aimed to improve the transition of care for adolescents from paediatric to adult health services. We considered adolescents with any chronic condition that required ongoing clinical care, who were leaving paediatric services and going on to receive services in adult healthcare units, and their families. Participating providers included all health professionals responsible for the care of young people.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently extracted data from included papers, assessed the risk of bias of each study, and assessed the certainty of the evidence for the main comparisons using GRADE. Discrepancies were resolved by discussion. Authors were contacted for missing data. We reported the findings of the studies as pre- and post-intervention means and calculated the unadjusted absolute change from baseline with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Main results: 

We included four RCTs (N = 238 participants) that explored: a two-day workshop-based transition preparation training for adolescents with spina bifida; a nurse-led, one-on-one, teaching session with the additional support of a ‘health passport’ for adolescents with heart disease; a web- and SMS-based educational intervention for adolescents with a range of different conditions; and a structured comprehensive transition programme with a transition co-ordinator for adolescents with type 1 diabetes.

One study evaluating a one-on-one nurse-led intervention, and one evaluating a technology-based intervention suggested that these interventions may lead to slight improvements in transitional readiness and chronic disease self-management measured at six- to eight-month follow-ups (low certainty evidence). Results with the TRAQ self-management tool were: MD 0.20; 95% CI -0.16 to 0.56 and MD 0.43; 95% CI; -0.09 to 0.95; with the TRAQ self-advocacy tool: MD 0.37; 95% CI -0.06 to 0.80; and with the PAM tool were: MD 10; 95% CI 2.96 to 17.04. In contrast, transition-preparation training delivered via a two-day workshop for patients with spina bifida may lead to little or no difference in measures of self-care practice and general health behaviours when measured using the DSCPI-90©.

Two studies evaluated the use of health services. One study evaluated a technology-based intervention and another a comprehensive transition programme; these interventions may lead to slightly more young people taking positive steps to initiate contact with health professionals themselves (Relative risk (RR): 4.87; 95% CI 0.24 to 98.12 and RR 1.50; 95% CI 0.32 to 6.94, respectively; low certainty evidence.

Young people’s knowledge of their disease may slightly improve with a nurse-led, one-on-one intervention to prepare young people for transition to an adult congenital heart programme (MD 14; 95% CI 2.67 to 25.33; one study; low certainty evidence).

Disease-specific outcome measures were reported in two studies, both of which led to little or no difference in outcomes (low certainty evidence). One study found little or no difference between intervention and control groups. A second study found that follow-up HbA1c in young people with type 1 diabetes mellitus increased by 1.2% for each percentage increase in baseline HbA1c, independent of treatment group (1.2%; 95% CI 0.4 to 1.9; P = 0.01).

Transition interventions may lead to little or no difference in well-being or quality of life as measured with the PARS III or PedsQ (two studies; low certainty evidence). Both the technology-based intervention and the two-day workshop for young people with spina bifida found little or no difference between intervention and control groups (MD 1.29; 95% CI -4.49 to 7.07). One study did not report the data.

Four telephone support calls from a transition co-ordinator may lead to little or no difference in rates of transfer from paediatric to adult diabetes services (one study; low certainty evidence). At 12-month follow-up, there was little or no difference between groups of young people receiving usual care or a telephone support (RR 0.80; 95% CI 0.59 to 1.08)). They may slightly reduce the risk of disease-related hospital admissions at 12-month follow-up (RR 0.29; 95% CI 0.03 to 2.40).