Kids Health Info

Adolescent transition - how to talk to your doctor

  • As you grow older you will start gaining more independence in a range of areas including your health care. Life for an adolescent involves lots of changes, decisions and choices. Having a medical condition or disability can add extra issues to work through. These issues may be complicated and personal so it is important that you know who to talk to and how to talk to them.

    Talking to your doctor or health care team

    As a young person you will probably rely on your parents/carers or friends for support with any complex issues you're facing. However, although these support networks can offer you some great advice, they may not be able to fully answer any health concerns or emotional needs you may be experiencing, or you may just feel awkward asking them personal questions.

    This is where your doctor or a member of your health care team will come in. Whether it is your local doctor, your RCH specialist, a nurse or a physiotherapist, your health care team is a great source of information regarding your medical condition or disability, as well as emotional and general concerns about your wellbeing.

    Medical staff are trained to give you important information so you should feel comfortable talking to them. As a child your parents talked to your doctor. Now you'll have to do it on your own.

    Important first steps are:

    • Prepare your questions before you see your doctor or a member of your health care team.
    • Ask lots of questions if you need to.
    • Write down and keep important information with you.
    • Spend part of your appointment with your doctor on your own without your parents.

    Your parents will be a good source of information for the rest of your life - but now it's important that you lead the discussions and the exchange of information. This is good training for the time when you will want to attend appointments on your own as an adult.

    In the beginning it may be hard.  Sometimes talking to your doctor can be a scary experience, particularly if you need to discuss something embarrassing.

    Tips to make it easier

    • Your doctor or member of your health care team has seen or heard it before. You are unlikely to be the first patient your doctor has seen with an embarrassing problem. The best thing to do in this situation is to accept that you may feel uncomfortable and try your best to put it behind you. You're better off being embarrassed and treated than embarrassed and still sick!

    • Your health care team is there to help you, not judge or punish your behaviour. When you tell them something personal you may think that they will be disappointed with you. Your team is there to keep you healthy, so don't be worried that they are going to judge you. It's their job to listen to you non-judgmentally and help you to overcome any concerns or health problems you may have. If you feel like your doctor is judging you then have a chat to your parents/carers about finding a new doctor.

    • It's your job to talk about your concerns in an open and honest way so that your health care team can help you. If you don't chat to them about the hard things they may miss something important in your health care. If you're having difficulty approaching a hard issue, try putting it down on paper and give it to your doctor to read.

    • Your visit is private and confidential. Your doctor has a responsibility to keep any information you tell them private. No-one else will find out about your concerns or problems. Your parents/carers don't have to know if you'd prefer they weren't told. The only time this may not apply is if your doctor believes your life or the life of someone else may be at risk. 

    Skills for young people

    There are certain skills you need to have to be able to communicate well with your doctor and health care team. You won't be expected to have all these skills right away, but hopefully by the end of the transition process you will have mastered a majority, if not all, of these skills.

    You will need to be able to:

    • Tell your doctor and any other health care practitioners about your medical history including current symptoms, your lifestyle and self-care, all within a few minutes so as not to take up too much appointment time.
    • Ask questions about your condition and its effects on all areas of your life.
    • Tell your doctor and health care team about your needs in all areas of your life and how your condition might affect these, i.e. education.
    • Follow treatment plans developed by you and your health care team.
    • Be independent in following up referrals and keeping your health care team informed about information given in these referrals.
    • Look after yourself with your diet, exercise, recreation, medication, hygiene and risk-taking behaviours and get help when you need it.
    • Be more aware of your physical and emotional health symptoms and needs and how to get help for these before you have a serious medical crisis.
    • Develop a plan of action should you need emergency care. This can include information such as when to consult with your doctor, what hospital to report to, what care you want or don't want and naming someone who can let your wishes be known in the event that you are unable to.
    • Recognise that as you become more capable in directing your care that you, not your parents/carers, should make medical appointments, have the most knowledge about your health care needs, know when to seek guidance in solving problems and demonstrate that you are capable and competent and ready for adulthood.

    Tips for young people

    • Be assertive when it comes to your health care and needs.
    • Attend at least some of your appointment without your parent/carer to begin with so you can practice talking to your doctor. Practice will make the process easier. During this time work with your doctor on a treatment plan. Once your parent/carer returns try explaining the plan to them. This will help you practice how to discuss your medical history, current symptoms and treatments to any other health professionals as well as learn how to keep you parent/carer informed. This will help them feel confident that you are on top of things.
    • Ask questions even if you think they are silly.  You're better off knowing the answer than wasting time wondering about it or looking for it on the internet.
    • If you have trouble understanding something, try to explain it back to your doctor or health care professional. For example: 'So what you're saying is this… Is that right?' or  'I think I am having trouble understanding.' You will be better off in the long run if you acknowledge that you don't understand something.
    • Keep a record of important information with you. Try keeping an information file that includes your medical history, recent test results, health care team contact details (including emergency contacts) and other information relevant to your health care. Put it in an envelope and take it with you to your appointments.
    • Your health care team wants to help you. Give them all the information they need so they can, even if you think it's embarrassing or you want to keep it a secret. Don't keep secrets about your health and wellbeing from your health care team - tell them everything.

    For more information

    The Royal Children's Hospital
    Adolescent Transition Coordinator
    T: (03) 9345 4858

    Developed by the RCH Adolescent Transition Program. First published September 2012.

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.