Navigating health care as a young adult
Our teenage years and early twenties are a pivotal time of change in our lives. Young adults are simultaneously transitioning educationally or vocationally, legally, socially, and emotionally. Young adults take on the responsibilities of becoming an adult and navigating life, and managing health and wellness are a big piece of the life puzzle. From updating your health insurance plan to finding in-network doctors and scheduling appointments, staying healthy can feel overwhelming. However, young adults do not have to go it alone and there’s support available to help you find your way.
Owning Your Health
Once you turn 18, you are legally responsible for your own care and, unless you agree, your parents cannot access medical information or attend doctor’s visits. As parents, encouraging your child’s involvement early on in their own care helps them be more comfortable making their own decisions when the time comes.
Transition is a process that begins in early adolescence by partnering with patients and families to prepare them for adult care. Throughout these years good communication between patients and providers is key. This isn’t all on the patient and their family either. Pediatric providers also play a role in ensuring a smooth handoff to their successors and helping their patients through the change.
Primary Care Provider Key to Managing Wellness
Your biggest partner in your journey is your primary care provider. Finding a new primary care physician as a young adult can be overwhelming. That’s especially the case if you recently left your parents’ insurance plan and need a health professional you can trust. After years of relying on a pediatrician with intimate knowledge of your medical history, it can be hard to navigate the many options of new doctors.
There are lots of primary care doctors around, and it can seem like an overwhelming task to find the right one. The best way to start is to ask friends and family for referrals. You might find the same name or practice keeps coming up. If you already have a family physician you trust, ask them for a referral.
Once you have some names, it’s important to verify which doctors are in your health insurance “network” — or who accepts your insurance plan. To do this, you often can call the office and ask. You also can use online directories to begin your search.
Scheduling a Visit
The best way to confirm whether a new physician is right for you is to schedule a face-to-face visit. When you make the appointment, either via phone or through an online portal, let the office staff know you’re looking for a new provider and would like to sit down and discuss your expectations. During the appointment, get a feel for the office atmosphere and confirm you’re comfortable with the entire staff. Talk about your medical history, medications, and worries moving forward and confirm the provider meets your requirements.
This first appointment is a great opportunity for a well visit. Just like it sounds, the well visit is your chance to talk to your provider when you are not sick. You can feel “just fine” while having underlying conditions, like high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, pre-diabetes, or suspicious moles. These conditions, if discovered early, can be managed before they turn into larger chronic health concerns.
Once you’re confident in your provider choice, talk to them about recommended screenings and tests. Many screenings happen every year, such as blood pressure, heart and lung function, and gynecological exams, or at other regular intervals, like cholesterol and blood sugar. Your provider may also have recommendations for vaccinations including influenza, tetanus, measles, mumps, HPV, and hepatitis A and B, ensuring you’re up to date and protected.
As a young adult your health may be the last thing on your mind. However, the time you spend today can put you on the path to a happier, healthier lifetime. Your primary care provider is your partner in any health goal and we’re here to offer suggestions to improve your overall health and give you resources to help you start and maintain healthy habits, now and through all of life’s milestones ahead.
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Michelle Cavanaugh, M.D., is a physician with UPMC Family Medicine and sees patients at UPMC Primary Care, 175 Pine St., Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Cavanaugh, call 570-326-2447. For more information, visit UPMC.com/PrimaryCareNCPA.