8 Health Care Questions to Discuss with Your College-Bound Teen

Before freshman year, Michigan’s chief health officer recommends covering these key areas to help your teen take charge of their own health care.

1:22 PM

Author | Jordyn Imhoff

College books and computer


It's your worst parental nightmare: your child needs urgent medical attention and you're hours away from their college.

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Your instincts kick in and you begin managing the situation from afar, except, according to JDH Wealth, you aren't allowed to unless your 18-year-old gave prior authorization. This is due to HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

"HIPAA, from a practical standpoint, protects an individual's records," says Preeti Malani, M.D., chief health officer of the University of Michigan who oversees the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff. "Family, neighbors and employers cannot access any other persons records without that individual's permission," she explains.

Normally, though, at any hospital visit, the patient can sign a HIPAA authorization form along with their regular paperwork, which allows their information to be shared with certain people, Malani says.

She also reassures that sometimes HIPAA authorizations can be as informal as 'can you call my parent(s)?'.

Although preparing your child for these unforeseeable circumstances may feel like a daunting task, it's crucial, explains Malani, who is also a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

"Yes, an adult child can ask for their parent(s) to be called, but in certain and urgent situations, there may not be an opportunity for that, which is why it's vital to be prepared in advance," she says.

Before move-in day arrives, review this following list of questions with your teen to help them better understand their medical history and more:

1. Do you know your own medical history and your parent's medical histories?

"Providers will ask about a student's medical history and their parents' medical histories, so it's important to know," says Malani, who is also a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. "It also allows you and your child to discuss what they're at risk for."

If your child has allergies, a chronic disease, a history of surgeries or serious illnesses, they should keep a documented list with them, along with their vaccination records and a family medical history.

If students can anticipate their needs and proactively establish care, it not only gives their parents peace of mind, but it also helps them better adjust to becoming a new college student.
Preeti Malani, M.D.,

A family medical history list should include major diseases or causes of death of their parents and grandparents. For those who were adopted, they should be provided with any information that's known about their birth family's history.

Keep in mind, though, that some conditions that weren't present during their adolescent years may suddenly appear during college, provoked by their new environment.

"Substance abuse and other mental health concerns, like depression or anxiety, are especially important to be aware of during this time in your child's life since college can be stressful," says Malani.

Malani also explains that this question can create an opportunity for you to discuss sexual health concerns with your child, as well as general decision making.

2.  Who is your primary care doctor?

Depending how far your child's college is from home, and their medical history, it may be wise for them to continue seeing their current physician instead of finding a provider on or near campus.

Alternatively, you may decide it's best to identify a provider for them nearby.

"You can ask your teen if they'd prefer only seeing their pediatrician or if they'd like to also find someone on-site that can communicate with them and their physician at home," says Malani.

3.  Do you know how to make a doctor's appointment and how often you should see your provider?

"Whether it's your child listening to you make an appointment for them or they're doing it themselves, it's helpful to have them be part of the step-by-step process years before they go to college," says Malani.

But, if you haven't started, now is a better time than any.

Some teens need to see a health care provider more frequently, while others only receive routine, yearly appointments. In either case, help and encourage your child to schedule their next few appointments months in advance during their holiday breaks.

4. What are the names of your medications and why do you take them?

"Some teens have a complex medical history, while others only ever see their doctor once a year and don't take any medications," says Malani.

If your kid does take medications, it's vital for them to know the dosage of each and how often they need to be taken.

Which leads to the next question...

5. What's the dosage of your medications and how often do you need to take them?

"Encourage your teen to develop a system around taking their medications, such as setting up an alarm on their phone," says Malani.

When able, Malani recommends students create their class schedules around what best accommodates and tends to their mental and physical health needs. For example, morning classes may not work well for everyone.

Your child can also introduce themselves to their professors via email to ask how they can best help accommodate their individual health concerns.

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Malani says this simple step can help to alleviate some stress for your teen, and that they won't know what accommodations exist unless they ask.

"If students can anticipate their needs and proactively establish care, it not only gives their parents peace of mind, but it also helps them better adjust to becoming a new college student," says Malani.

6. Where's your nearest pharmacy to campus and do you know how to transfer or refill a prescription?

Scheduling a visit to your child's college before move-in day not only gets them familiar with the area, but it'll also allow you both to scope out the nearest pharmacy.

It's important to be mindful about how often a prescription needs to be refilled in order to avoid inopportune moments, like running out of medication on the second day of school.

Being aware of move-in dates, as well as when every semester begins and ends, can be key in avoiding these types of mishaps.

Besides calling or going to the pharmacy to request a refill, many places offer online portals through phone apps, which can make the process less intimidating.

"Encourage and show your teen how to set up this online access," says Malani. "These systems also allow for them to easily send notes to their providers and access their medical records."

7. Do you know what insurance you have and what the important details are about your plan?

If you have medical insurance, it may cover your child until they're 26-years-old. Providing them a copy of your card can be helpful in expediting their billing process after a visit.

Having them understand what your plan covers is important, but it's also important for students who pay for their own medical coverage to know. For example, out-of-pocket costs and co-pays may vary depending on the appointment.

SEE ALSO: 6 tools to prevent depression in college freshman

"For graduate students who may longer be on their family's plan, I recommend exploring if there are any graduate insurance packages offered to them by their university," Malani says.

8. What resources does your campus offer for managing your physical and mental health?

Have your child do their research, or better yet, do it with them! College campuses generally have student-focused resources that cater to the most common challenges they could face.

It's likely that various well-being classes and activities are available on your child's campus, too, so encourage them to attend ones that interest them most.

Also, as a parent, you may be eligible to receive emergency alerts about any major incidents or health hazards that arise on campus, a feature U-M offers through their newly created Michigan App.

In all, Malani emphasizes that this is an important population to have addressing their own physical and mental health, and a process that you can also join in on and support.

Check out Dr. Malani's article in NPR about packing a plan for your college-bound child's health care. 

More Articles About: Health Management Urgent Care Emergency & Trauma Care
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