A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

How to: Teach your teens to make health care decisions

Daughter smiles at mom during conversation at the table

For teens leaving home following high school, being prepared to use health care services while away is a lot like learning to drive. Feeling confident to take the wheel, takes practice.

“The best way for teens to become comfortable making their own health care decisions, is to provide information and involve them in their own self-care at an early age,” said Dr. Sharon Barkley, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician. “At Marshfield Clinic, we start this process between the ages of 12 to 14 and throughout the teen years.”

Patients legally are treated as adults when they turn 18.

“Unless teens give their parents’ permission, health records of teens age 18 and over are considered confidential,” she said.

Questions help get teens and doctors talking

Marshfield Clinic providers give teens a questionnaire to help discuss healthy lifestyle choices and health concerns.

“The questionnaire prompts conversations with teen patients about eating right, exercising and avoiding tobacco and other risky behaviors,” Barkley said. “As teens become more confident, their parents may leave the exam room during part or all of the discussion and during the physical exam.”

Parents influence health care decisions

Despite the transition, parents still have a role in fostering their children’s care.

“If parents have a positive attitude about seeing their own doctor for regular physicals, eating right and exercising, these healthful habits are likely to rub off on their children,” Barkley said. “By letting teens schedule their appointments, check in and respond to questions from providers, parents send a strong message of support. Eventually, teens will drive their health care decisions.”

Tips for teens getting ready to leave home

If teens are preparing to go off to college or other post-high school endeavor, here are some tips to prepare for accessing health care away from home. Teens should have:

  • Health insurance contact information and know where to go for care based on their insurance plans.
  • Information about health services provided on the college campus or conveniently nearby.
  • Information about their own health history, allergies and medications and be prepared to communicate this information to a new doctor or health care team.

If teens have a chronic condition, it’s important they understand how to manage their condition and any related prescriptions, equipment or supplies they will need or use.

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