When should you start the process of transitioning your child from a pediatrician to an adult doctor? Not 18 years old. Not 16 years old. 20? Nope, colder. 15 years old? Keep going lower. 14? Almost there…
12 years old! What? Yes, 12 years old is a great way to start talking to your near teen about taking ownership of their health, from knowing what medication they are taking to making healthy choices about lifestyle such as diet and exercise. A bit ambitious? It’s at least a good time to start warning them that they will be one day responsible for these things.
I don’t think of it as transition to an adult doctor, but rather a process of transitioning from parent led health awareness to independent health awareness. Successful transition would be a teen being able to call their doctor for appointments, tell the doctor which medications they are taking and what symptoms they have, and being able to provide the doctor with past medical history or family history. It so happens that after they turn 18 or 19 years old, they are no longer required to have a parent with them in the office, and the doctor they are seeing is an adult doctor and no longer the pediatrician. However, it’s the independence of the patient, not so much the type of doctor, that is key to a smooth transition.
One way to help the teen is to help them organize life is by making lists. We all have lists of items that take 6 months or never to complete. Sometimes we lose our lists. However, the practice of making a list, and not the list itself, is key to organizing heath needs and life. Make a list of to-dos recommended by the doctor after the visit – pick up meds, fill up water bottle, call for dermatology appointment, go to the pharmacy to pick up birth control (post on this coming soon!). Make a list of medications or a list of active medical problems. Make a list of fruits and vegetables they will eat. Make a list of exercises they are willing to do. Make a list of the doctors’ office numbers (and enter them in the phone contacts). Teens can write these lists in their planners, in a journal, or in the notes app on their phone.
Speaking of apps, the iPhone has a health app feature that can help your child organize their medical information and is also conveniently accessible in an emergency. Non-iPhones usually have something similar under “Settings” or last resort you can enter emergency contact number and medical info (allergic to bees) on a note app, screen shot the note and use it as the lock screen (under hack here). 90% of my teens have an iPhone, so here’s how they can use the Health App.
Create a medical ID which is just a page with basic health information including medications, medical problems, and allergies. An emergency medical worker can then go to the lock screen, tap emergency on the lower left corner. In the next screen, the worker will than tap on medical ID on the lower left corner and that brings us back to the 2nd screen containing all of Test-a-Teen’s health information. All without the teen’s password.
Another good use of a teen’s phone is to take a photo of the medications that they are taking and show that to their doctor. The most important part of the bottle is always the list of active ingredients, so be sure to keep that in view.
Now that you have helped your teen become more aware of their own health history, allow your teen to answer the doctor’s questions. If the doctor is asking you the parent questions about how your child is feeling and what problems they are having, then direct those questions back to your child. Give them a chance to respond for themselves. You can always step in to clarify (happens more than once after all I get from the teen is a grunt and a shrug). As hard as it is some times to let go, remember that once your teen turns 18 years old, the doctor’s office cannot talk to you unless your teen signs in writing that you can get their information, in compliance with the privacy HIPAA law. After your teen turns 18, they have to fend for themselves at the doctor’s office, so let them practice while you are still close by to offer guidance. Yes, starting at 12 years old.
For more information about successful transition, check out GotTransition.org for additional resources such as medical history worksheets and advice from to young adults who recently went through the process of finding an adult doctor.