The teen years are a good time to start taking
charge of your health care. Part of that means seeing a health care provider you
like. What's the best way to do that?
How Do I Find a Health Care Provider?
First, consider how comfortable you are with your current doctor. Taking charge
of your health doesn't mean you have to switch. Lots of teens prefer to see the
who has cared for them since they were babies. But you can't see a pediatrician
forever. That's why some people decide to move on to an adult physician.
Another option may be an adolescent
medicine doctor. These doctors specialize in teen issues — but, as with a pediatrician,
you will still need to switch to an adult doctor later on.
Sometimes the decision is out of your control: Perhaps your pediatrician no longer
sees patients your age, or you're moving to a new town. If you've been thinking how
nice it would be to have a provider who is the same gender as you or who understands
you better, now's your chance.
How Can I Find Someone I Can Talk to?
The most important thing is finding a health care provider (HCP) you feel comfortable
Of course, you want your HCP to know about the latest medical developments. Hospitals
and state licensing boards require doctors to stay up to date in their field. But
a good doctor also needs to understand your beliefs and concerns.
Do you have an interest in complementary and alternative medicine
techniques? You'll want to find a doctor (and staff) who respects your values. The
same is true if your concerns include very personal issues like sexuality.
Your health depends on your doctor getting to know parts of you that you think
of as private. You need to feel like you can ask your doctor about anything, no matter
how personal. Getting care from someone you connect with really is better for your
What's Important to You?
To find the HCP who helps you feel most comfortable, start by making a list of
the things that are important to you. For example:
a doctor (or nurse) who is the same gender as you
a doctor (and staff) who respects your views and beliefs and is nonjudgmental
(e.g., able to deal with topics like sexual
a doctor who is familiar with specific health issues or problems if you need it
(e.g., sickle cell disease or achondroplasia)
an office that's nearby or easy to get to
a practice with appointment times that are convenient for you (like late afternoons
You also might want to ask about how the office handles emergencies or questions.
Who answers phone questions or handles emergencies on nights and weekends?
If you need to go in when you're sick, will you see your HCP or someone else?
Can you email the doctor with questions?
How often does the doctor expect to see you for wellness exams?
These lists are a starting point — your questions may be different. After making
your list, rank them in order of importance.
Different Types of Health Care Providers
Now you're ready to look for your primary care physician. There are lots of different
types of doctors to choose from. Focus on the top items on
your list and ask friends or family members who they use. Or ask your current doctor
for a recommendation.
Check which doctors in your area accept your health
insurance (or your parents' insurance if you're still covered by theirs). Most
insurance companies offer a "find a doc" feature on their website. Or call
the doctor's office and ask if they accept your insurance. Some people start at this
step. You definitely want a provider who accepts your insurance so you aren't stuck
with surprise bills!
How Do I Schedule a Visit?
It's time to contact your chosen HCP — or ask your parents to do so. Call and make
an appointment for a regular checkup. (If you're not feeling well, it's best to see
your current doctor if you can.)
Adult physicians get booked up quickly so you might not get a regular checkup appointment
for several weeks or even months. That's OK — you'll need to request your medical
records from your current practice and that can take a couple of weeks. If you
see several different kinds of doctors, ask them to write a brief summary of your
medical care instead of requesting your whole record.
Sometimes a doctor or practice isn't taking new patients. So it helps to have a
list of providers you're interested in seeing in case your first choice doesn't work
What Happens on the First Visit?
At your first visit, you'll want to be prepared with questions.
It can help to bring a list with you, since it's easy for anyone to become forgetful
when they're in the room with the doctor.
If you're embarrassed to ask certain questions, give your written list to the HCP.
This is a good time to get used to talking about personal stuff, though: Medical providers
see and hear about almost everything, and they want to help. The human body — even
the most embarrassing stuff — is all medicine to them.
Asking questions is about more than getting answers. How your provider responds
will help you find out whether they explain things in a way that's helpful.
Another good test of how easy it will be to communicate is to ask them to repeat
something — like info about a prescription or a diet you need to follow. You need
to be sure your medical team is patient and wants you to understand rather than rushing
you. Or ask if you can record instructions so you can play them back later to be sure
you got everything.
Bring your health records from past doctors' offices to your first visit. (Or have
your former docs send them ahead of time.) The doctor needs to know how you've been
growing, what vaccines you've had, and about any illnesses, medicines, and allergies.
This is a great time to start managing any medical conditions you have, and to
keep track of when to refill your prescriptions.
What About My Parents?
If your parents know you want to see a new health care provider, they probably
realize you want to be in charge. This is a good time to talk to them about spending
time alone with the doctor, or even going to the office on your own if you're
If your mom or dad is in the room for part of the visit, answer as many of the
HCP's questions as possible yourself, rather than waiting for your parent to speak
up. The doctor wants to know how you're feeling and what's going on with you, not
what a parent thinks you're feeling. Sometimes parents have a tendency to jump in.
Most of the time they don't mean to take over. They're used to answering questions
because they've been doing it since you were a kid.
If you can't answer the questions honestly with someone else in the room, tell
your doctor what's really going on when you're alone. Most understand that teens need
time alone with their medical provider, and many will ask parents to give the two
of you private time.
What if I Want to Switch Again?
Did you find a new doctor only to realize after a few visits that they're not what
you expected? You're not locked in — switch again. It's important to find someone
you trust, feel comfortable with, and can develop a close relationship with as you
With all the changes going on in your mind, body, and life, your health care provider
will be an important part of your life. So you want someone you can connect with and
stay with for a long time.