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Transition to Adult Health Care

In the medical world the term “transition” refers to preparing youth for the experience of becoming consumers of adult healthcare. During childhood, parents take responsibility for seeing that their son or daughter’s medical needs are met—they call for doctor appointments, fill out forms, and keep track of medications. As youth get older, the ability to manage their own medical needs becomes increasingly important. Healthcare transition focuses on building independent health care skills – including self-advocacy, preparing for the adult model of care, and transferring to new providers. This section focuses on the transfer to new health care providers.

Transition planning happens in more than one setting and youth with disabilities and chronic conditions or special health care needs may have several transition teams. A youth’s health care transition team includes:

The purpose of this team is to plan and support the transition from pediatric to adult health care. Although physicians may not have the time to participate in IEP meetings, you can bring their recommendations to the school IEP team to make sure health and medical goals are reflected in your youth’s IEP.

There are three initial questions parents should consider to ensure the transition a new provider goes smoothly.

  1. Find out the policies regarding the age limits for your child's pediatric/adolescent practice.
  2. Ask your health care insurer what their policy is regarding the age limit of services under pediatric/adolescent care.
  3. If you have concerns about your son or daughter’s ability to make good decisions about their medical care based on their unique health needs, find out about your state's requirements for limited guardianship.

This information will provide you with the time frame you need to work within.

Working with Your Son or Daughter’s Pediatrician

Doctors who actively participate in the transition process by suggesting health and medical goals to address in the IEP, coordinating the transition to other providers or clinicians, communicating with appropriate community services (e.g. Medicaid and Social Security), or providing their input on other postsecondary goals significantly improve the transition process for their young adult patients and their families. However, while most providers encourage their adolescent patients with special health care needs to assume responsibility for their own health, far fewer are discussing other important elements of health care transition—including the transfer to an adult provider and insurance continuity and coverage.

Parents can help physicians play a more effective role in the transition to adult health care. Introduce the idea of health care transition to your son or daughter’s pediatric health care provider early in adolescence (age 12 to 14). You can start the discussion by asking the provider: What do you feel your role is in health care transition planning?

If the physician is not familiar with recommended practices, refer him or her to resources of, or your state’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center. By beginning the conversation you have begun a partnership that you can build upon in future visits.

Ask about would the possibility of overlapping adult and pediatric care for your son or daughter for a period of time with his or her pediatrician. This approach may be especially helpful if multiple specialists are involved.

Finding an Adult Health Care Provider

How do you find a doctor who will meet your son or daughter’s medical needs, that will be covered by your health plan, and who will give you the care you are looking for?

Before you start looking for a new primary doctor, think about what is most important to your youth:

Gather Recommendations

Ask others for their recommendations of doctors that you can consider. Ask your current doctor, family members, and adults who have health needs similar to your son or daughter’s who they would recommend. Ask other parents of young adults who have made the transition to adult health care about their experiences.

Will you also need to find new medical specialists such as a neurologist, orthopedist, or gastroenterologist who will communicate with your new primary doctor? Many young adults with disabilities and their families have developed strong relationships with their pediatric medical specialists. Ask your son or daughter’s pediatric specialists to help you transition to adult specialists. You can also ask the same individuals listed above about their recommendations for adult specialists.

Once you have a list of prospective adult health care providers. Sit down with your son and daughter and make a plan about how to approach the interview. Some youth will want to assume the leadership for how to proceed with the interview process. Even youth who need significant parental guidance, however, should be involved to the extent they are able in the process of selecting their new health care provider.

Don’t forget to refer to your health insurance website to ensure that the individual doctors you are thinking about interviewing are on their list of approved providers.

Also consider where a potential doctor is located. How far is your son or daughter – or you if you will provide transportation – willing to travel? Does your son or daughter use public transportation? Is the doctor’s office on or near a bus line or subway stop? That may help you narrow down the field.

Interview Potential Doctors

Once you have a gathered a list of potential doctors, sit down with your son or daughter and make a list together of questions that you want to ask each one:

When you call to actually schedule an interview:

After the Interview

After you have met with your prospective doctors, discuss the interview with your son or daughter.


What Can Medical Providers and Teachers Do To Help You Take Charge of Your Own Health Care?

How Can Parents Help Providers When Their Young Adult Transitions to Adult Health Care?

Let Children and Teens Speak for Themselves

What is Health Care Transition

For more videos on this topic, visit our Videos page.

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