This is a series of blog posts contributed by members of your AUPA Board of Directors. Topics cover items of interest for fellow Auburn parents, by Auburn parents. We encourage discussion and welcome your suggestions for future posts. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Becoming "Health Independent"By Michael J. Ramsey, M.D., F.A.A.P.
I think that I am one of the luckiest people in the world.
Not only am I able to enjoy participating in the lives of my own children, but as a pediatrician, I am able to be a part of thousands of families. Now that I have been in practice almost 19 years, I have a large cohort of patients that I have seen from their first minutes of life until they transition away from my care when they enter college. It is a bittersweet time knowing that they have "outgrown" me; however, it reassures that I have done at least part of my job right.
As my own children began their transition to college, I noticed that I had some catch up work to do on them. Growing up, it was so easy for me to take care of everything regarding their health. They never really had to worry about knowing much about their personal health history or how to interact with the healthcare system. All of their doctors were friends of mine, so I gave them a "head up" prior to each visit. The pharmacy was just next to my office, and refills were as simple as just mentioning it to my nurse. With all this convenience, my children were able to float above it all, knowing that they would get the care they needed.
Now, two of my children are in college: Rebecca at the University of Colorado, and Wilson at Auburn. Not only have they journeyed from home, but also from my sphere of professional influence. Calls of "I'm sick - what do I tell the doctor?" or "Am I allergic to anything?" sounded alarm bells for me. We needed a crash course in how to advocate for their own health. This also has made me more aware of how to instill this "health independence" in my patients.
First: Know Your History
It is so important for young people to be intimately familiar with their own health histories. Did they have asthma when they were younger? What type of surgeries have they had and when? If they have a current health problem, like seizures or ADHD, what medicines have they been on in the past, and how well did they work? Are they allergic to any medication? Most young adults know that they had some medical problems when they were younger, but understandably did not pay attention to the details. Some patients find it helpful to keep a written health journal to remember important information. I would suggest keeping it on their phone so that it can be readily available.
Keeping up with specifics on current medication and dosages is difficult for parents, so imagine what this is like for young adults. However, this information factors into every treatment decision that a physician makes. Not having this information can lead to harmful drug interactions or ineffective prescribing. Including this information in their health journal, or taking pictures of prescription labels to show a healthcare provider is extremely helpful.
Second: Know What's Going on Now
Being able to accurately describe symptoms is the most influential factor in receiving the right care for any illness. Just as important as learning to write a college essay, young adults should be able to tell their own story of their current illness, including:
- When did everything start? (two days ago? Two weeks?)
- What went wrong and in what order? (Cold symptoms for 1 week and then fever? Cold symptoms and fever both for 1 day?)
- How severe are the symptoms, and are they getting better or worse?
- Are there any extenuating circumstances? (Contact with anyone else sick? Travel to a foreign country?)
- What have you tried previously to make this better?
- Is it affecting any of your other medical problems?
Being competent and comfortable in telling these things to a physician will make their office visit not only more efficient, but more enjoyable as well. Young adults can be insecure or embarrassed about discussing some symptoms, but most of the time it is just a lack of experience. Rehearsing or writing down answers to these questions will give any healthcare provider a good base from which to start.
Third: Know Where to Go
There are many options for accessing healthcare, each having their own optimal role to play. Most common illnesses like colds, strep throat, stomach viruses, and sinus infections do not require emergency room visits. They are best served by outpatient clinics like student health services, acute care clinics, and private medical offices. Similarly, patients with chronic health conditions benefit from the continuity of seeing the same provider(s) over time. Going to the emergency room should be reserved for only severe or significant medical problems like those mentioned here. Having a plan helps reduce anxiety when they are sick. If they don't where to go, Auburn University Medical Clinic provides a 24-hours nurse line at 866-389-6770.
Health insurance is sometimes a difficult concept for young adults to grasp. They should know that anywhere they go to seek care will ask for this information. Keeping a picture of your family's insurance card on their phone can be extremely helpful during the intake process. Also, they should be aware that they may be asked for payment at the time of service, especially at a pharmacy.
Directing their own health is an important part of our children's development. It is truly rewarding to see it developing in other families, but it is unbelievably relieving to see it in my own children. I know that I will always be an important safety net for them in this regard, but I am feeling ever confident that they will need me less and less. With the right coaching, all of our children will.
Michael J. Ramsey, M.D., F.A.A.P.
AUPA Blue Region Representative