Don’t Worry – A 12-year-old Isn’t Expected to Suddenly be in Charge of all Their Health Care Decisions
I was shocked when I learned I couldn’t access my 12-year-old daughter’s medical records via my hospital account. We were pretty sure she had coronavirus and I wanted to access her test results as soon as they came in, but because she was now 12, she had to create her own account with the medical system.
This 6th grader, who could care less about navigating the healthcare system, told me to set up the account for her and to save the password. She still has no clue how to even look at these kids medical records (nor any interest).
Apparently 12 is the age that a child can start managing their own medical information??
This freaked me out until I learned that she wasn’t expected to suddenly be in charge of her medical decisions. The hospital wasn’t going to shut me out of my child’s health journey and they won’t leave important decisions to a 12-year-old.
According to Metro Health – University of Michigan, parents are still expected to manage their child’s care up to age 18. Phew!
Letting go of the reins when it comes to your teen’s medical care can be one of those anxiety-producing realities. However, Metro Health – University of Michigan Health family practice physician Elizabeth Albright, DO, says, “The sooner a teen is engaged in his or her healthcare, the better and more successful their treatment will be long-term.”
Teach Kids to Manage Their Medical Records so They’re not Clueless When They Turn 18
Let’s start with the legalities of healthcare management. From a federal and state standpoint, there are regulations that drive how healthcare facilities and parents/guardians must treat and manage the care of children under 18.
“Since minors are not legal adults (unless emancipated), parents are the voice of their child at the doctor’s office,” says Metro Health privacy officer Gavin Faas.
“The child can advocate for themselves—and should—but the responsibility ultimately falls on the parent.”
Parents of minors also have access to, and control of, their child’s protected health information (PHI) under HIPAA. While teens can access their own health information through patient portals like Metro Health’s MyChart, parents have the right to decide what information is visible.
“Parents must balance protecting their children while at the same time empowering them and promoting their ability to become independent decision makers,” Faas notes.
While it sounds scary to let a 12-year-old loose with medical information, it’s even scarier to me to let my 18-year-old loose with it when she’s never been taught a thing about what her records mean and how to handle them. If we start when they are 12, they’ll have a better understanding of what to do when they move out on their own.
Help Teens Manage Medical Records, Learn Medication Use & Know Family History
To ensure that both you and your child are ready to shift healthcare control when they turn 18, it’s important to start conversations early.
“Around age 12 is when children may start to take a more active role in their healthcare. At this age, I start talking with teens one-on-one about sensitive topics to allow time for them to engage without their parent present. This also helps them get used to seeing a provider on their own,” explains Dr. Albright.
Dr. Albright says it’s important teens are given the opportunity to vocalize their symptoms and explain what they’re feeling in their own words. This will prepare them for the day when a parent isn’t around to do the talking for them. Even allowing them to attend doctor’s appointments on their own can help build confidence.
My daughter has an appointment next week with her family doc to discuss lingering coronavirus symptoms. I’ve been asking her probing questions and encouraging her to observe how she’s been feeling so she can articulate symptoms to the doctor herself. And when the appointment arrives, I’m going to let her do the talking.
If you’re wondering about medication use, Dr. Albright says most teens are self-reliant enough to manage their own medications around age 15-16. Make sure they’re not only responsible enough to remember to take medication on their own, but also when to take it and how it’s prescribed.
Another topic Dr. Albright says is important for parents to discuss with their teen early on is family health history.
“Talk to your child about medical conditions that run in the family such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers and diabetes. Before they reach adulthood, your child should be able to answer family health history questions without needing your help. Then, keep your child informed of changes in family health history whenever they arise.”
Age 18: They’re Still Under Your Insurance, but They Have to Manage Their own Appointments and Medical Decisions
Once your child turns 18, get ready for some significant healthcare changes. Even if you’re still footing the bill.
“The biggest change is that an 18-year-old has to make his or her own appointments and manage their own healthcare with their doctor,” says Faas.
“Parents will not be able to do this anymore due to privacy laws unless there is a signed authorization or form. Metro Health has a Permission to Discuss form that the patient can fill out and add anyone with whom their doctor may discuss their medical information.”
“This transition can be unnerving for teens and parents,” Dr. Albright shares. “Many teens have always relied on a parent to make decisions or answer questions. When they come in for that first adult visit on their own, it can be overwhelming.”
I think I’m going to let my daughter call to make her own doctor appointments once she’s in high school. She can always defer to me with questions, but it’s a safe time for her to test out this new independence while I’m still legally allowed to be involved. Then when she’s 18, it won’t be all new to her.
Dr. Albright says there are some young adults who are over-reliant on a parent and request that the parent call with questions or help with health management. If permission has not been given for this, the healthcare provider cannot legally discuss the teen’s health with the parent.
“This can cause confusion and dissatisfaction to the patient and/or parent. That’s why being comfortable and prepared for these situations at the onset of adulthood is important in alleviating issues,” she explains.
Additionally, parental access to the child’s patient portal account will be automatically removed once he or she turns 18.
If your child remains on your insurance, insurance companies will still send an Explanation of Benefits to you when your child visits the doctor. HIPAA allows for those who are paying for the medical care to receive protected health information that is specific to that visit.
Your Child Will Become an Adult Whether You’re Ready or Not.
If giving your child control of their healthcare still has you on edge, remember you’re already giving them autonomy in other ways.
You’re counting on them to wear their seatbelt and bike helmets when you’re not around. You trust them as they get older to avoid smoking and alcohol use. You let them borrow the family car—albeit begrudgingly.
All of these things together are helping to build confidence and independence. Handing over the keys to their own healthcare management is just part of that journey.
Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I should have my daughter log into her own account and look around, even though it makes me a little sad to think that my little baby is growing into an adult!
Prepare your child—and yourself—well enough in advance and when adulthood comes, the tears you shed will be tears of joy. Because, let’s be honest, you’ll definitely cry!