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How to Help Your Child Transition from Pediatric to Adult Health Care

Posted 7/26/2018 by UHBlog

When your children outgrow the pediatrician, we can guide them (and you) to a more grown-up approach to health care.

Doctor is checking a young patient

If your child is ready to move from a pediatrician to a physician who treats adults, the transition should be gradual, rather than sudden.

Conversations about the change to a different kind of doctor should start years before the actual move, says pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist Sara Lee, MD. The conversations should focus on how your child can take increased responsibility for his or her own health care.

“We start talking about transition when the pediatric patient is as young as 12, 13 or 14, even though it’s not going to happen then,” she says. “We talk about kids making their own appointments and knowing their prescriptions, allergies and medical history, all the things that come with being an adult at the doctor’s office.

Among the important differences between a pediatrician and an adult care doctor is the level of patient responsibility, Dr. Lee says.

“Adult care is much more driven by the patient and is more dependent on the patient initiating the appointment and telling the doctor everything that is happening,” Dr. Lee says.

No Timeline

Pediatricians are trained to treat pubescent patients and are accustomed to balancing the privacy needs of young patients with an obligation to keep parents involved in their minor children’s healthcare.

There is no hard-and-fast timeline. Many pediatricians are happy to see patients through college or up to age 21.

“When a patient is 18 or 19 years old, the parents are still sometimes heavily involved, but an adult provider may not be prepared to interact with parents even when the family wants them to be involved,” Dr. Lee says.

Ways to Help Your Child Transition to Adult Care

Dr. Lee offers these suggestions for helping your child transition from pediatric to adult health care:

  1. Starting around middle school, help your children to become knowledgeable about their medical history, especially if they have a chronic illness or allergy. Encourage them to do most of the talking at medical appointments. Teach them to administer their own medications, injections or inhalers.
  2. As they move into their middle teens, encourage your children to schedule their own medical appointments.
  3. Teach your children how to fill or refill a prescription, and underscore the importance of maintaining an ample supply of medicines.
  4. Ask pediatricians, friends and family members for recommendations of health care providers who understand the needs of young adults. Depending on your teen’s age, you, your teen or both of you should meet with prospective doctors to determine comfort levels.
  5. When your child transitions from a pediatrician to an adult doctor, find new subspecialists, too.

When no Switch is Necessary

If the child’s doctor is a family medicine or internal medicine/pediatrics provider, there may be no reason to switch doctors, Dr. Lee says.

Likewise, if your child is a college student whose tuition or insurance covers the cost of health care at the student health center, it may be unnecessary to find a separate doctor outside the student health center.

Sara Lee, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Lee or any other doctor online.

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