You were responsible for all your child’s medical needs during childhood, from well-checks and filling out forms to tracking their medications. As your child has become an adolescent (teen), managing their own health care needs has become more important.
Transitioning from pediatric to adult health care can be daunting for parents and teens, but you can help them make this transition as smooth as possible. This is especially important for children with complex care needs or health-related issues.
“Parents play a crucial role in helping to prepare their adolescents to transition to adult health care,” said Jennifer Nelson, DO, an internal medicine-pediatrics specialist with Banner - University Medicine. “Helping your teen build autonomy in their health care can help prepare them for this new stage of independence.”
Here’s how to help your teen make the transition from a pediatric to an adult care model, with or without a transfer to a new health care provider.
When should my child transition from pediatric to adult care?
The transition process generally begins in pre-to early teenage years, between the ages of 12 to 14.
“At this point, the discussion of transition can begin, and health care will begin to transition from a pediatric model (where parents are the drivers of care) to an adult-type model (where the patient is the driver of their care),” Dr. Nelson said.
The transition process will continue, and at around age 14, your teen will begin to spend time with the provider alone to discuss their health care confidentially (privately) during all their regular wellness visits and possibly some sick visits. Parents can support this next stage of independence by encouraging their teens to take this time to discuss any health concerns or questions.
Over the years, their provider will continue to discuss the transition and evaluate your teen’s readiness and growing autonomy until age 18, when they are legally adults in the health care system.
“Even though your adolescent may still have you come to their appointments, at this point, parents should be encouraging their teens to be responsible for managing their own health care information, appointments and follow-up care,” Dr. Nelson said. “Additionally, information can no longer be freely shared with parents/guardians without your child’s permission.”
Finally, between the ages of 18 and 22, your teen or young adult should fully transition care to an adult care model. This may mean transitioning to a new provider entirely or if you see a provider who takes care of children and adults just a transition in the way care is received.
How can I help my child make the transition?
As your teen transitions into adulthood, your continued support is needed. Here is a list of tips to help you support them as they begin to take charge and manage their health independently.
- Teach them to take autonomy early by encouraging your teen to ask questions about their care plan during their office visit.
- Have them practice completing/filling out forms before medical appointments.
- Make your child aware of all important medical history. This includes family history of a disease, previous illnesses, operations, medications, allergies to medications and immunizations.
- Go over when and how to make health care appointments and when to seek urgent care versus emergency care.
- Help them download, log in and learn to use your provider’s online patient portal system or app for access to medical information, prescriptions and appointment scheduling.
- Securely store pictures of their vaccine records and important medical information using a personal “digital” vault such as 1Password. Systems like this can keep your family’s most important information safe and in one place.
- Talk to your teen about the steps for refilling their medicine. Let them watch and ask questions as you fill medications. Let them practice refilling with you.
- Explain the different types of health insurance. If they are covered under your health insurance plan, talk to them about how it works. Have your teen carry their insurance card to appointments.
What if my child has special needs?
Not all transition plans look the same. Transitioning to adult care may be particularly complex if your teen has special needs.
“Generally, these patients have to transition not only their primary care provider but also all their subspecialty providers,” Dr. Nelson said. “In an attempt to best prepare for this transition process, start early and discuss often to make it as seamless as possible.”
Read our Banner Health article on how to help your teen with special needs transition their medical care into adulthood.
What should my teen be able to do when they manage their own care?
By the time your child reaches adulthood, they should be able to do the following on their own:
- Describe their medical history
- Name any allergies, with specific information as to how they react
- Name or have lists of medications, doses, frequencies
- Know how to get prescriptions filled or refilled at the pharmacy
- Be able to recall important family history
- Develop comfort talking to a health care provider on their own, including asking and answering questions
- Schedule and arrange transport for their appointments
- Understand how to access emergency services
- Become comfortable using and understanding insurance/insurance cards and completing medical forms
It’s never too early to start thinking about transitioning care with your teen. Transitioning is a significant first step in increasing their independence so they can become happy and healthy adults.
Check out Got Transition, a federally funded national resource center on health care transition, for additional information. It has resources on health care transitioning, including full self-assessments of transition readiness for parents, youth, and young adults, as well as sample transition timelines.