When and how to move your teen to adult medical care

If you’re a parent, you know all too well your kids won’t stay little forever. As they grow up, their needs change.

That’s true when it comes to their health care too. Once your child is firmly in their teen years, you’ll want them to learn how to take over the responsibility for their healthcare as they get older.

Gradually helping your child prepare to shift from pediatric to adult care is an essential step. Here are key tips to begin the process.

1. Understand the move

You might wonder if the move is necessary — especially if you and your child adore your family pediatrician. Understandably, you might have formed a tight bond with your child’s doctor because of the time and (let’s face it) maybe some tears you’ve shared through the years.

Pediatric practices are geared toward caring for babies, toddlers, children and teens. Patients in those age groups and development stages benefit from this focused specialty. 

But once they mature, it’s better for them to see a provider who cares for adults — because, after all, that’s what they’ll be for the rest of their lives.

“It’s an important milestone and part of their development as people,” said Jim Bochsler, a PeaceHealth pediatrician in Bellingham, Washington.

“Preparing for the switch is a clear way to help your child learn how to be more actively involved in decisions about their medical care and have them see providers who are trained to meet their changing health needs.”

2. Time the shift

The timing of this transition varies with patients and practices. PeaceHealth pediatric clinics try to get everyone moved by the time they turn 19, noted Dr. Bochsler. Age 18 is the “official” oldest age for many offices.

Do you or your child want to wait until then or move before they turn 18? It’s a personal decision. 

Some teens may be uncomfortable going to a pediatric office after they’re in middle school. Others may want to stay in a familiar setting through high school.

Your child’s health history, conditions and maturity may also influence the timing.

It doesn’t hurt to start the conversation early. It can help your child get used to the idea of this change well before it needs to happen.

And the sooner you start thinking about it, the sooner you can watch for natural opportunities to make the switch, such as if: 

  • Your family moves to a new town or neighborhood.
  • Your child’s pediatrician retires.
  • Your child has fully recovered from a surgery or other treatment.
  • Your insurance changes. 

3. Prepare your child

Look for chances to talk with your child about making the change — when things are calm. If they’re under a lot of stress, wait.

A national alliance for adolescent health, Got Transition, offers a variety of tools to help you and your teen talk about the subject. Quizzes on the site help you and your child know if they’re ready. For example, do they:

  • have or know how to find their doctor’s name and phone number?
  • know what to do if they feel sick when the clinic is closed?
  • have their medical information (conditions, allergies, etc.) on their phone, in case of emergency?

If they don’t, you can help your child learn these, little by little.

And ask your child’s pediatrician for tips and support for these conversations.  “We can help parents and kids know what to expect and how to plan as they get older,” said Dr. Bochsler. 

4. Choose a provider for adult care

Would your teen want to look for a new provider on their own or would they welcome help?

Either way, before they start narrowing down their choices, suggest they start with a few key basics such as:

  • Location – is it close to your child’s home, school or work?
  • Insurance coverage – does the new practice take your child’s insurance?
  • Taking new patients – is the clinic or provider office taking new patients?

Read more on how to look for a provider. This article on different specialties in primary care and advance practice clinicians can also help your family consider the options.

5. Plan for a seamless switch

After finding a new provider, share your child’s medical records with the new office. If your family gets care at PeaceHealth clinics, you can use My PeaceHealth, the electronic health record system, to make the transfer.

If your teen has a condition that requires ongoing or close monitoring, work out a plan to reduce potential gaps in care with the new provider. 

Your pediatrician can also help you and your family prepare for a smooth handoff. 

“Helping teen patients graduate to adult care is an exciting step,” said Dr. Bochsler. “We all want our patients to continue to get great care as adults. We’re here to help.”

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