As adolescents move into young adulthood, they take on increasing responsibility for managing their own health care. By teaching your teen the necessary skills over time, this new responsibility will feel less overwhelming, and your teen will be one step closer to “adulting.” Making a medical appointment is a skill that seems simple but can be intimidating, particularly to teens who are phone call-phobic.
Know your health care team
Start by having your teen make a list of their health care providers, including doctors, mental health providers, therapists, dentist, and any others. Encourage or help your teen to add the names, addresses, phone numbers, and web addresses of all providers to their phone contacts, so they can easily find them in the future.
Teens who are moving on from the pediatric to the adult health care system may, of course, need help identifying new providers. Together with your teen, determine what are the most important characteristics of a new provider (age, gender, location, insurance coverage, specialized medical knowledge), and talk to your current team to see if they can recommend someone.
Teach your teen to be prepared by gathering the necessary information before making the phone call. They may not need everything listed below, especially if they are already an established patient of a practice, but better to be over-prepared than to be caught off guard without the information they need.
Provider’s phone number
Insurance card (if they don’t have their own, have them snap a photo of yours to store on their phone)
Their school and work schedules, as well as yours if you will be taking them to the appointment
Pen and paper to write down any information they are given
If being referred to a new provider, the name and phone number of the referring doctor, in case they wish to request additional information
A one-sentence description of why they are making the appointment, or what kind of appointment they are requesting (e.g., sports physical, sick visit, telehealth appointment) and how soon they need to be seen
Time -- they may be placed on hold, or the phone call may take longer than they anticipate
More and more providers are giving patients the option to request appointments online, which may be more convenient and feel less intimidating to teens. Typically, this requires the creation of an account first, and minors may require an adult to set this up. Teens need to store their username and password in a safe place, since these are easily forgotten when used infrequently.
Offices often respond to online requests with a phone call to confirm, and teens need to understand that this phone call could come during school or another inconvenient time. Email, also not the preferred communication tool of most teens, is commonly used by medical practices as well. They should not assume they have an appointment until they get some kind of confirmation.
Explore the Patient Portal
Most large hospital systems and many private practices have adopted online systems through which patients can view their medical records, communicate with their providers, request medication refills, and often request appointments. Mobile apps for these patient portals are common and navigating them is often intuitive for teens and other digital natives. Help your teen set up their own access to the portal (or request help with this from your provider’s office) and spend some time exploring the features and options available to them through the portal.
Teens may feel most comfortable making their first couple of appointments with you nearby to assist them if needed. With a little practice, they can master this simple skill on their own.
Cynthia M. Holland-Hall, MD, MPH, is a member of the Section of Adolescent Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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