Let Teens Take Charge of Their Health — Sort of

Even young teenagers can learn to manage of their own healthcare

By Jennifer Burstein


Our healthcare system is complex. Navigating through the maze of insurance companies and medical specialists can be daunting for anyone. If you have teenagers, you may wonder if they will be ready to maneuver through the system when they become young adults.

The early teenage years are a good time to start preparing your son or daughter to become a smart healthcare consumer. Education can help minimize stress and save unnecessary expenses that can result from uninformed decisions made later. Here are some tips to help your teenager — or anyone, really — be more independent and confident.

Keep it Simple

When your child starts middle school have them assist with simple tasks relating to health care. With supervision, they can schedule medical visits. They can be responsible for informing the doctor's front office staff of their arrival. If their printing is legible, they can complete portions of the patient intake form. In addition, they could request any excuses from the doctor needed for school.

Make Your Teen Part of the Team

Your teenager should write down her own questions for the healthcare provider — and you should make sure she has time to ask them. Allow her to respond to questions asked by the medical staff, but be prepared to elaborate when necessary.

Remember there may be certain issues that your teenager will want to discuss with the physician in private. In fact, many doctors discourage parents from being present during exams for older children. Both parents and children should be prepared in advance to handle this situation.

History is Important

Many medical conditions such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, hearing loss and glaucoma may be inherited. Make sure your teen is aware of significant medical issues that might run in the family. A written list of these conditions paired with the family member’s relationship to your teen will help create a comprehensive medical history. For example: my maternal grandmother was deaf; my father's brother has high cholesterol.

Additionally, update your child regarding his personal medical history. This should include but not be limited to allergies, previous surgeries and vaccinations. The doctor should have this information at hand, yet it’s a good idea for everyone to “own” his or her own history.

Understanding Health Insurance

Talk with your teen in broad terms about the type of health insurance the family has and how it works. She may want to contact the online membership services department of the insurance company to get a good grasp on the insurance.

Older teens, and especially those on their way to college or a job, should understand how to access health services within their insurance network. They should know the difference between in-network providers and out-of-network providers.

When a doctor or physician’s assistant refers your teen to a specialist or to a lab for testing, that provider may not be covered by your insurance. To check, your child can look up the provider’s name in the insurance provider handbook or call membership services to inquire.

By the same token, when your child calls the provider’s office to schedule an appointment, she should verify that the doctor is an in-network provider. She should also ask if payments are due at the time of visit.

You will have to decide what tasks your kids are up to — and which you are more comfortable handling at this point in time. But, when it comes to managing healthcare issues and other daily chores to get through life, preparation can be the best medicine.


Jennifer Burstein is a freelance writer, clinical audiologist and mother. Her website jlnburstein@wordpress.com