Most young adults move from pediatric to adult health care between 18 and 21. But just because you are technically an adult doesn’t mean you automatically know how to take ownership of your health care.
Seeing an adult care provider isn’t very different from seeing your pediatrician. The focus shifts slightly from growth and development toward disease prevention and general wellness.
The biggest change is that when you’re an adult, engaging in your health care is up to you. These tips will help you do just that:
1. Select your primary care physician carefully
Having a primary care physician (PCP) can make you healthier. But finding a good fit is critical.
If you’re unsure where to find a PCP, check out the physicians covered by your insurance plan, and ask your pediatrician, family and friends for recommendations.
To narrow down the list, make sure potential PCPs fit two criteria:
- Convenient, with a location and office hours that make medical appointments easy to attend. Visit the location, if possible, and scope out parking and ease of access.
- Covered, meaning they are “in-network” with your insurance plan. Check with both your insurance company and the provider.
Then, call or visit the new practice and ask important questions, such as:
- Are they accepting new patients? If so, ask how long you’ll have to wait for your first appointment.
- How easy is it to be seen for sick visits? Ask if they offer after-hours or virtual appointments.
- Who will you see for appointments? Some practices center around one doctor, while others involve a team of providers, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
- What method of communication do they prefer? Should you phone, email or submit a patient portal message if you have questions?
- What paperwork do they need for the transition of your care? You’ll need to request that documentation from your pediatrician or current doctor.
2. Get to know your insurance
Depending on your situation, you may have health insurance through your family, employer or independently. But as long as you have insurance (and select an insurance plan that fits your needs), getting the health care you require will be easier.
Understanding your insurance helps keep health care affordable. You’ll be able to choose providers covered under your plan and know what to expect for out-of-pocket and copay costs.
You may have separate cards for your medical care and prescription coverage. Make copies of the cards, take pictures or scan them onto your phone to be sure you have them when needed.
3. Keep your medical information organized
Without your parent or guardian overseeing your health care, you’ll need to collect and manage essential medical records and information. The information you should gather includes:
- Blood type, which dictates whether you can receive or donate blood in an emergency
- Family health history of your parents, siblings and grandparents
- Personal health history, including past surgeries, medications and diagnosed conditions
- Summaries, test results and clinical notes from medical appointments and hospital visits
- List of prescription medications you take — keep pharmacy printouts, take pictures of the bottles or compile a written list
- Insurance forms related to the medical care you’ve received
- Legal documents, such as a living will or advanced care directive
How you organize the information is up to you, but find a system that feels comfortable and is easily accessible. You may keep papers in a file cabinet or pictures and scanned documents in a password-protected digital file. Make sure an emergency contact knows where to find your medical file and has the login and password, if necessary. This information can often be found on your patient portal, especially if you get all or most of your care within one health network.
4. Monitor your health between visits
Tracking your health can help you hold yourself accountable, stay focused on health goals and pinpoint unhealthy habits. General health information to track and share with your doctor may include:
- Menstrual cycle
Other markers are also good indicators of your health — and your PCP will assess them at your annual physical. But ask whether you should be monitoring these other vital signs between visits:
- Blood glucose levels because one in four young adults have prediabetes
- Blood pressure, maintaining a healthy range to reduce cardiovascular risk
- Cholesterol, which is bad for heart health, especially if you also have high blood pressure
- Heart rate, which is a good gauge of your general health and fitness level
5. Be prepared for an emergency
Knowing what to do and where to go for emergency medical care can help shave off minutes of wasted time when time is of the essence. Learn the locations of the closest hospital and urgent care facility.
Put yourself in a position to receive the best emergency health care by making vital health information accessible to medical professionals and your emergency contact person. The information they need immediately often includes:
- Name and date of birth
- Important medical conditions, blood type and prescription medications you take
- Emergency contacts (friend or family member and PCP) and their phone number
Keep this information in your wallet or stored on your phone. Apple iPhone users can use the medical ID feature in the Apple Health app. It allows you to store important health information and makes that information accessible — even on a locked phone — when you use the phone’s emergency SOS feature. Android users can create a medical ID using the Medical ID (Free) ICE Contacts app. The National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health offers instructions for setting up your medical ID on Apple and Android phones.
6. Advocate for yourself
There may be times when you need to speak up for yourself while receiving medical care, especially in situations when:
- You don’t feel your concerns are being taken seriously.
- You don’t understand your provider’s explanation or medical instructions.
- You’re concerned about your mental health.
Most health care providers want to make sure they understand your concerns and that you understand what they tell you. If you aren’t comfortable with your provider, the care they provide or how they communicate, find a different PCP. When your provider is a good match, staying on track with your health may be easier.