By Diana Simeon
Before going to college, it’s important for teenagers to be comfortable going to a doctor on their own and talking to a doctor on their own. The good news: your pediatrician will partner with you to help your adolescent develop those skills. Here’s how this change in the teen health routine typically works:
It Starts Before the Risk Taking Years. “Each pediatrician’s office is different, but around age 12, I start seeing the patient first with the parent and then alone,” explains Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, a pediatrician and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine “I start at that young age because even though a 12 year old may not think they need to talk to me about anything, you never know what is going to come up.”
Starting at an early age means a pediatrician can build a confidential relationship before a teenager becomes sexually active, starts experimenting with drugs or alcohol, or engages in other harmful behaviors (like disordered eating and cutting). “So, by the time they are 16, they know their mom is not going to be in the room and can talk about personal decisions or more risk-taking decisions,” says Trachtenberg, who’s also the author of The Smart Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Kids through Check Ups, Illnesses and Accidents.
Privacy is Important for Teen Health
Teenagers Need Confidentiality Too. Parents should anticipate that the pediatrician won’t necessarily share all the details of her conversations with your adolescent. In fact, in most states, doctors are not required to share a minor’s medical information with a parent unless the minor is a danger to himself or others or has been abused. Privacy is an important component of teen health.
Your Pediatrician is Still Your Partner. That said, this transition is not about withholding information from parents — or undermining their authority — so much as creating the opportunity for teenagers to develop a relationship with a trusted medical provider. “It’s so important to have some confidentiality between myself and the child, so he has someplace to go if he needs to,” says Trachtenberg. If you are concerned, speak with your pediatrician to find out under what circumstances she’ll bring you into the conversation. In general, up until the age of 18, minors have only limited rights to manage their own health care decisions.
Consider College (and HIPPA). When a teenager turns 18, HIPPA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — mandates that parents no longer have the right to access their teenager’s medical information. That means that unless your teenager waves her HIPPA rights, you will not be informed about her health-care activities when she’s at college (and that includes physical and mental health) unless she tells you herself. This is why your pediatrician will work with you to make sure that your 18 year old will be capable when it comes to handling her health care needs.
So, When to Stop Going? Before a child turns 18, parents should plan on going to routine doctor’s appointments, while anticipating they may spend some — or all — of the visit in the waiting room. But after 18, your teenager is an adult in the eyes of the medical community, so it becomes a conversation between you and your teenager about what she wants.