Transitioning from Pediatric to Adult Health Care: A Guide for Parents

doctor talking to patient

It can be difficult to know what the right age is for your child to transition from pediatric to adult care. If they learn how to manage their own health care, both you and your child will feel more confident that they will be able to keep themself healthy and access care when they needs it. This guide will give you some tips about what they needs to know as they approaches adulthood.

At what age should my child start transitioning to adult care?

Transitioning to adult care will be most effective if your child learns skills in the course of their teen years. They should start spending some time alone with their health care provider between the ages of 12-14. Here are guidelines that will help make this a well-prepared and stress free process.

Note: If your child is currently seeing a family medicine practitioner, they doesn’t need to transition, as their current provider will be able to continue caring for them as an adult. However, it’s still important that they learns the skills to manage their own health care.

By age 16, they should:

  • Learn about any medical conditions they have and/or special health care needs
  • Keep a current list of medications and dosages
  • Know how to fill or refill a prescription
  • Be aware of their personal and familial medical history
  • Make (and keep track of) their own medical appointments
  • Have contact information for their current primary care provider (and any specialists they sees)
  • Write down questions to bring to appointments with their medical provider
  • Spend time alone with their medical provider

By age 18, they should:

  • Know how to obtain copies of medical records
  • Learn about health insurance coverage and options
  • Know how to obtain a referral to a specialist (if necessary)

How can my child find a new health care provider?

Sometime between the ages of 18-24 is an appropriate time to start seeing an adult care provider such as an internist. The exact timing will depend on what your child is doing during those years (living at home or away in another city), the standards of the practice where they have been seen, and their own readiness. Work with your child and their current health care provider to obtain names of providers who see young adults, and decide on the right time for them to start seeing an adult care provider.

How should my child decide on new health care provider?

To help your child make a decision regarding his adult care provider, they might want to have the following questions answered by the providers they’re considering.

  • Which hospitals does the new primary care provider work in?
  • What are the office hours (when is the provider available, and when can they speak to office staff)?
  • Does the provider or someone else in the office speak the language that they’re most comfortable speaking?
  • Are there other providers that can see them when their primary care provider is not there? Who are they?
  • How long does it usually take to get an appointment?
  • What are the provider’s fees? Do they need to pay at the office or will he be sent a bill? Will the insurance cover the visit?
  • Does the provider or nurse give advice over the phone for common medical problems?
  • Can they contact the provider by e-mail?

Having answers to these questions will help your child make an informed decision on which provider is best for them.

What do my child and I need to know about health insurance?

If you have health insurance, your child may be eligible for coverage under your plan if you claim them as a dependent. The passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 has made it possible for dependents to be covered under their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

Additional information regarding health insurance:

  • If you don’t have health insurance and your child is attending college or university, they should check out any health insurance options that they is eligible for through school. Suggest that they contact the student health center for information.
  • If your child is not attending college or university, has graduated and is no longer eligible for coverage under your insurance plan, or doesn’t have a health insurance policy through their employer, they may be eligible for coverage under COBRA. COBRA is a Federal law that may allow a person to temporarily keep health coverage.
  • If your child is eligible to be covered through his employer, they should investigate their options and pick a plan that is right for them.
  • If your child isn’t eligible for coverage through an employer, they can apply for individual health insurance through new state and federal websites, but it will be more expensive and the deductibles and co-pays higher than being covered through a group plan.

Making sure your child is knowledgeable about health and health care during their teen years will help them successfully manage their own care later on. By providing support and guidance, you can help them take gradual steps towards the transition to adult health care, and help them become an educated, responsible adult.