Like learning to drive or managing finances, figuring out health care is part of becoming an independent adult. Here are some tips on what that involves — and why it matters.
If you're like most teens, you've left your health care up to your parents. After all, they care about your health as much as you do. But nobody knows more about your body than you: You live in it and you're the one who knows when something doesn't feel right.
Taking charge of your health care lets you make choices that affect you every day. It also prepares you for the time when you'll be the one buying health insurance or making decisions for your own kids.
But even people who have a lot of experience with doctors or hospitals have gaps in their knowledge when it comes to the medical system. If you have a health condition like diabetes or asthma, you may know some things well (like when to take your medication), but less about others (like the medicine name or how to fill a prescription).
Now's the time to fill in those blanks. Here's how.
Start by finding out your basic medical information. Knowing this will help in an emergency. Ask your mom, dad, or whoever keeps your health information to give you these six things:
Some of this information — like your doctor's contact details, allergies, or medications — should be programmed in your phone. Keep other information, like medical history, in a safe, private place, like on a password-protected thumb drive.
The more you learn about health care, the smarter your decisions will be — and the more comfortable your parents might feel with having you make them.
Choosing your own doctor is one of the most important decisions you can make. Lots of people prefer to stay with their childhood doctor during the teen years (if your doctor is a pediatrician, you'll have to switch eventually). Other people decide their teens are a good time to switch to a family doctor, adolescent medicine specialist, or internist.
Your doctor should be someone you feel comfortable talking to about anything—body image, dating, relationships, peer pressure to drink or do drugs, school problems, or depression. Know what's important to you, like having a doctor who asks good questions, or is young or the same gender as you. Take all the time you need to find the right doctor. If you have to switch a couple of times, that's OK.
Include your parents as you make your decisions. They've managed your health care until now, and they'll probably want to have a "hand-off" period. They may want you to stay with a particular doctor — if you have brothers and sisters, it might be easiest to have everyone in the same medical practice. But there are still ways to make some of your own decisions.
Here are some things you can start doing around age 14:
Here's what to do by the time you leave high school:
As you take an active role in managing your health care, ask your parents for help. Even if you're pretty sure you know the answer to something, asking for help is a good way to reassure your mom or dad that you're responsible and will ask questions if needed.
Insurance plans can be complicated and change often. Involving your parents can help you be sure that doctors accept your health insurance so you're not left responsible for the whole bill.
Perhaps the best, and easiest, way to take charge of your own health care is to start by taking care of yourself. To do this at any age:
It's easy to let your parents call the shots, but taking responsibility for your health is a great way to learn critical lifelong skills and demonstrate your independence. It is the best headstart you can give yourself on the road to lifelong wellness.