Transitioning to Adult Care
A guide for a smooth transition from your pediatrician to your adult primary care physician.
Why Must You Change Doctors?
As you become a young adult, your responsibilities increase, you become more independent, and you need to learn how to take care of yourself to remain healthy as you grow older. A first step in taking a more active role in your health care decisions is to transition from a pediatrician to an adult primary care doctor, such as a family medicine physician or an internist. (You need to be 18 to select an internist, but can select a family medicine doctor before age 18.) If you have had a pediatrician, you might not know that pediatricians specialize in caring for children and adolescents, typically until they turn 18.
Your pediatrician can assist you in finding an adult primary care doctor who meets your specific needs or your family and friends might have a recommendation. Choose a new doctor you can trust and feel completely comfortable with to ensure a positive transition. You can also make an appointment to talk about a health concern and meet your new doctor before making your final decision.
If you have a chronic illness or complicated medical history, talk with your current doctor about when to transition to an adult primary care doctor. Remember information is power – ask questions and get advice. Together, you can determine what works for you!
Your Parents' Role
Before transitioning to an adult primary care doctor, your parents have some homework to do as well to make this transition a success. They need to:
- Help you learn how to make appointments, get prescription refills, etc.
- Ask your pediatrician when to begin making the transition to an adult primary care doctor.
- Suggest how you can ask questions and make sure you understand what you hear during doctor appointments.
- Help you select a clinic location that you can get to on your own, or while away at school, if necessary.
- Check your health insurance policy to find out where and how you can get medical care that will be covered by that policy, especially if you will be leaving home.
- Check whether your current health insurance policy will cover medical care you might need on campus if you will be attending college.
- Decide whether you will need to buy supplemental insurance to cover health care costs offered through your school.
You’ve made the transition to your new adult primary care doctor and have your first appointment. Now what do you do? Write down any questions you may have ahead of time. You can bring a notebook to your appointment to record any instructions given to you by the doctor. If necessary, find all important forms online; fill them out and bring them to your appointment. If this is a new clinic, having copies of appropriate parts of your medical chart will help.
Sign Up for My Health Online
If you remain a PAMF patient once you turn 18, sign up for your own My Health Online account – this is an excellent way to begin managing your health. My Health Online, our free online patient services tool, gives you convenient, secure online and mobile access to your doctor and health records. With My Health Online you can make appointments, email your doctor, request prescription refills and more. You can sign up during your next visit with us. After you enroll, download the free MyChart app from the iTunes store or Google Play.
What Should I Do If I Move Away?
If you leave home after age 18, find a primary care physician in your new location. Check that your new doctor accepts your health insurance or you personally will be billed for any health care services.
If you are off to college, have your doctor refill any prescriptions before you leave, and find the nearest pharmacy near school to have them refilled when you run out. Learn what health care services your school offers to its students and how to access those services in case you need them.
In your dormitory room or apartment, create health care reminders, such as setting an alarm to remind you when to take daily medications; keeping an up-to-date calendar with any scheduled appointments; or posting reminders and important information in a visible location in your room (Post-it notes are great for this). PAMF’s Wellness Assessment for Youth to Get Organized! (WAY2GO!) can provide virtual support, too. Learn more at pamf.org/way2go.
Questions You May Need Answers to When Away From Home
- What is the name of your primary care physician?
- What is your health insurance plan number?
- Do you have a copy of your immunization record and medical history?
- Do you have information about your local free clinic or your school’s health center, such as contact information or hours of operation, and who to call in an emergency?
- For those with a chronic disease, do you know your diagnosis, the name and dosage of medications you take, why you take them, and the medications you should not be taking along with these medications?
- Any medical procedures, blood tests or shots (i.e. flu shot) you may need regularly or annually
- When to call a doctor
- When and how doctor’s appointments are scheduled
- How to fill or refill a prescription
- Your legal rights and responsibilities
- Whether or not your insurance requires pre-approval for health care services, and if so, how to request authorization
- Which over-the-counter medicines to consider taking for minor illnesses
- Whether a generic medication versus a name-brand medication is available (generic brands are typically cheaper)
- The correct dosage for your medication and when it needs to be taken
- The side effects of drugs, especially in combination with other medications, alcohol and recreational drugs
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them. (All links open to new window.)
- National Diabetes Education Program
- National Center for Medical Home Implementation
- Children's Hospital of Wisconsin
As of 2015, if you are covered under your parent's health insurance, you can get services like birth control, STI/pregnancy tests or outpatient mental health services from your usual health care provider and keep that information private, BUT YOU MUST TAKE ACTION.
It's simple to take action and protect your privacy: Submit a confidential Communication Request to your health plan provider today.
- Know your health plan and policy number.
- Contact your health plan.
- Submit a confidential communication request (get a form here: Confidential Communications Request).
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Written By: Jenny McElaney,
college student writer
Reviewed By: Elizabeth Lee,
M.D., Family Medicine
With thanks to Molly & Nan Dellheim
Last Reviewed: April 2016
Download our handouts on:free Adobe Reader)
Search for a PAMF Family Medicine or Internal Medicine doctor accepting new patients for your adult primary care doctor.
Additional Helpful Hints:
- Set an alarm reminding you when to take daily medicines
- Carry a copy or list of your medications and your doctor's business card in your wallet with emergency contact information.
- Keep an up-to-date calendar with all appointments
- Post reminders and important contact information in plain view in your room
- Enter your clinic's number into your cell phone