The teen years are a good time to start taking charge of your health care. Part of that means seeing a health care provider you like. What's the best way to do that?
How Do I Find a Health Care Provider?
First, consider how comfortable you are with your current doctor. Taking charge of your health doesn't mean you have to switch. Lots of teens prefer to see the pediatrician who has cared for them since they were babies. But you can't see a pediatrician forever. That's why some people decide to move on to an adult physician.
Another option may be an adolescent medicine doctor. These doctors specialize in teen issues — but, as with a pediatrician, you will still need to switch to an adult doctor later on.
Sometimes the decision is out of your control: Perhaps your pediatrician no longer sees patients your age, or you're moving to a new town. If you've been thinking how nice it would be to have a provider who is the same gender as you or who understands you better, now's your chance.
How Can I Find Someone I Can Talk to?
The most important thing is finding a health care provider (HCP) you feel comfortable with.
Of course, you want your HCP to know about the latest medical developments. Hospitals and state licensing boards require doctors to stay up to date in their field. But a good doctor also needs to understand your beliefs and concerns.
Do you have an interest in complementary and alternative medicine techniques? You'll want to find a doctor (and staff) who respects your values. The same is true if your concerns include very personal issues like sexuality.
Your health depends on your doctor getting to know parts of you that you think of as private. You need to feel like you can ask your doctor about anything, no matter how personal. Getting care from someone you connect with really is better for your health!
What's Important to You?
To find the HCP who helps you feel most comfortable, start by making a list of the things that are important to you. For example:
- a doctor (or nurse) who is the same gender as you
- a doctor (and staff) who respects your views and beliefs and is nonjudgmental (e.g., able to deal with topics like sexual orientation)
- a doctor who is familiar with specific health issues or problems if you need it (e.g., sickle cell disease or achondroplasia)
- an office that's nearby or easy to get to
- a practice with appointment times that are convenient for you (like late afternoons or evenings)
You also might want to ask about how the office handles emergencies or questions. For example:
- Who answers phone questions or handles emergencies on nights and weekends?
- If you need to go in when you're sick, will you see your HCP or someone else?
- Can you email the doctor with questions?
- How often does the doctor expect to see you for wellness exams?
These lists are a starting point — your questions may be different. After making your list, rank them in order of importance.
Different Types of Health Care Providers
Now you're ready to look for your primary care physician. There are lots of different types of doctors to choose from. Focus on the top items on your list and ask friends or family members who they use. Or ask your current doctor for a recommendation.
Check which doctors in your area accept your health insurance (or your parents' insurance if you're still covered by theirs). Most insurance companies offer a "find a doc" feature on their website. Or call the doctor's office and ask if they accept your insurance. Some people start at this step. You definitely want a provider who accepts your insurance so you aren't stuck with surprise bills!
How Do I Schedule a Visit?
It's time to contact your chosen HCP — or ask your parents to do so. Call and make an appointment for a regular checkup. (If you're not feeling well, it's best to see your current doctor if you can.)
Adult physicians get booked up quickly so you might not get a regular checkup appointment for several weeks or even months. That's OK — you'll need to request your medical records from your current practice and that can take a couple of weeks. If you see several different kinds of doctors, ask them to write a brief summary of your medical care instead of requesting your whole record.
Sometimes a doctor or practice isn't taking new patients. So it helps to have a list of providers you're interested in seeing in case your first choice doesn't work out.
What Happens on the First Visit?
At your first visit, you'll want to be prepared with questions. It can help to bring a list with you, since it's easy for anyone to become forgetful when they're in the room with the doctor.
If you're embarrassed to ask certain questions, give your written list to the HCP. This is a good time to get used to talking about personal stuff, though: Medical providers see and hear about almost everything, and they want to help. The human body — even the most embarrassing stuff — is all medicine to them.
Asking questions is about more than getting answers. How your provider responds will help you find out whether they explain things in a way that's helpful.
Another good test of how easy it will be to communicate is to ask them to repeat something — like info about a prescription or a diet you need to follow. You need to be sure your medical team is patient and wants you to understand rather than rushing you. Or ask if you can record instructions so you can play them back later to be sure you got everything.
Bring your health records from past doctors' offices to your first visit. (Or have your former docs send them ahead of time.) The doctor needs to know how you've been growing, what vaccines you've had, and about any illnesses, medicines, and allergies.
This is a great time to start managing any medical conditions you have, and to keep track of when to refill your prescriptions.
What About My Parents?
If your parents know you want to see a new health care provider, they probably realize you want to be in charge. This is a good time to talk to them about spending time alone with the doctor, or even going to the office on your own if you're old enough.
If your mom or dad is in the room for part of the visit, answer as many of the HCP's questions as possible yourself, rather than waiting for your parent to speak up. The doctor wants to know how you're feeling and what's going on with you, not what a parent thinks you're feeling. Sometimes parents have a tendency to jump in. Most of the time they don't mean to take over. They're used to answering questions because they've been doing it since you were a kid.
If you can't answer the questions honestly with someone else in the room, tell your doctor what's really going on when you're alone. Most understand that teens need time alone with their medical provider, and many will ask parents to give the two of you private time.
What if I Want to Switch Again?
Did you find a new doctor only to realize after a few visits that they're not what you expected? You're not locked in — switch again. It's important to find someone you trust, feel comfortable with, and can develop a close relationship with as you get older.
With all the changes going on in your mind, body, and life, your health care provider will be an important part of your life. So you want someone you can connect with and stay with for a long time.