We've written before about the importance of planning for the educational transition of students from high school to college and adulthood. But there is another kind of transition that is also important for adolescents -- the move from pediatric to adult medical care. For many young people, this transition occurs when their long time pediatrician may tell them that they are "getting too old" for their pediatric practice. Or the young adult may no longer feel comfortable sitting in a waiting room filled with young children and toys. For young people who see their pediatrician only for check-ups or flu shots, there may be a period when they have no primary care physician or they may be referred to an adult practioner whom they don't get around to seeing until they are dealing with an illness or emergency.
For young people who have ongoing medical issues this kind of transition is grossly insufficient. And all adolescents have needs that differ from somewhat older adults, ranging from school issues to sexual concerns. So what are young people and their parents to do to make sure they have ongoing medical care during this important transitional period in their lives?
Some pediatics specialists, who have worked with their patients with complex medical needs since early childhood, will continue to work with their patients until well into adulthood. This can delay the need for transition to an adult specialist. Other doctors, particularly general pediatricans, have a policy to treat young people only until a certain age.
Fortunately, there is a solution in the pediatric sub-specialty of adolescent and young adult medicine. The website of the American Academy of Pediatrics has extensive information on health related issues for teens and their families and for young adults. Another source for information about physicians who are focused on the health of this age group is The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine , an organization dedicated to "promoting optimal health and well-being for adolescents and young adults."
HIPPA, a federal law which deals with the privacy of personal health information, protects communications between young people over 18 and their doctors. This is in addition to other state laws that may insure the privacy of communications between younger teens and their doctors in areas such as reproductive health.
So, along with having a plan for moving beyond high school academically, families should also consider the medical needs of their teen and make sure he or she has a relationship with a physician he or she can rely upon for meaningful medical care.