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Empowering Teens in Health Care Decisions

Last updated: August 21, 2023

“By involving teens, we equip them with the tools they need to become advocates for their own well-being.

Dr. Abby Smolcich, Pediatrician, ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy

Teens inhabit an in-between place in the world. They still want and need the support of parents and other caring adults, but they’re also increasingly seeking independence. Navigating the complexities of health care is one part of that — and a vital aspect of adolescent development.

Underscoring this, the American Medical Association recently adopted a new medical ethics policy. It emphasizes the importance of health care providers respecting the autonomy of adolescents in decision-making, while also collaborating with parents. In the spirit of that, ThedaCare pediatricians are encouraging families to engage in this part of the health care journey.

Doctors say it’s crucial for teens to play an active role in their health care choices and learn the skills needed for doing so. In addition to family support, a variety of tools can help young people make informed decisions about their health.

“By empowering teens with the necessary information and tools, we can ensure they receive the care they need,” says Dr. Abby Smolcich, a Pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy. “This helps nurture their ability to take responsibility for their health and well-being as they mature.”

Exploring Proxy Access

Proxy access allows parents or guardians to view their child’s medical records. With proxy access, families can ensure continuity of care, promote communication between parents and teens, and foster shared decision-making. Having open and honest conversations about medical concerns, treatment options, and long-term planning helps teens develop critical-thinking skills and take ownership of their well-being.

“By remaining involved, families can offer guidance, share important medical history, and provide emotional support surrounding critical health care decisions,” Dr. Smolcich says. “This collaboration can also build trust and allow for a richer understanding of the teen’s health needs.”

In compliance with state and federal laws and regulations, ThedaCare limits child proxy access for online review of medical records of children between ages 12 and 18. To request proxy access, log in to MyThedaCare . From the main menu, scroll to Account Settings and select “Request Proxy Access to a Minor.”

Increasing Responsibility Gradually

As teenagers mature, doctors say it’s important to gradually grant them more responsibility for their health care decisions. This allows teens to develop self-advocacy skills and become well-equipped to manage their health as they transition into adulthood.

“The decision to provide more responsibility should be based on individual readiness and a comprehensive assessment of teens’ capabilities,” Dr. Smolcich says.

Consider these general age guidelines:

  • Around age 12, kids can start to understand their health conditions
  • Around age 14, teens may begin to ask and answer questions during medical visits
  • Around age 17, adolescents can choose their own primary care physician and keep track of their appointments

“This active engagement develops a sense of ownership in their health and encourages teens to become proactive participants in their care,” Dr. Smolcich says. “It’s also important to find the balance between empowering teens and ensuring their safety. Families should consider a teen’s maturity and ability to handle tasks. This will enable teenagers to build confidence while still having a safety net.”

Respecting Autonomy

Privacy is an essential component of adolescent development. Respecting the need for privacy during health care encounters demonstrates trust and promotes open communication between teens and their health care providers. It also provides teens the freedom to discuss personal concerns, ask questions, and seek guidance without the fear of judgment or unnecessary involvement from their parents.

“Respecting privacy is not about exclusion. It’s about creating an environment where young people feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics and building a strong patient-doctor relationship,” Dr. Smolcich says. “It encourages them to actively seek health care information and engage in open dialogue.”

Providing Extra Support

Teens with chronic conditions or special health needs face unique circumstances when it comes to managing their health care. They often require additional support as they navigate through the complexities of their conditions. Parents, health care providers, and educators play a crucial role in equipping these adolescents with the necessary knowledge and skills to make informed choices.

“For teens with special health needs, it’s important to provide them with age-appropriate education about their conditions,” Dr Smolcich says. “This includes understanding their symptoms, treatment options, and the importance of regular appointments.”

Setting Up for Success

Beginning to take the lead on health care decision-making and management is critical to teens’ transition into adulthood. “By involving teens, we equip them with the tools they need to become advocates for their own well-being,” Dr. Smolcich says. “This helps ensure the next generation is prepared to make informed health care choices and lead healthy lives.”

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Tags: proxy access special needs Teen health

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