Helping Kids to Be Health Smart

  • July 18, 2019

    In Washington, state law protects the health privacy of children beginning at age 13. This means that kids can set up their own online health plan accounts and receive their own health communications. Children age 13 and older can also access certain health care services without parental consent.

    This can be tough for parents, but it can be easier when they work with providers to raise health-smart kids. Neil Kaneshiro, MD, pediatrician and Premera medical director, shares his approach.

    How do you prepare children and their parents for that time when kids have increased privacy at the provider’s office?

    When they’re around 10, I tell my patients at their checkup that in the next year or two I’m going to ask them to talk with me alone about some of things that affect kids their age. I tell them that this is different than what we’ve done in the past, and I ask them if they have any questions about that. I do this in front of their parents. It gives everyone a preview of what’s to come so it’s not a surprise the next year.

    How can parents start coaching their kids to become smart about their health?

    They can say, “Hey, your checkup’s coming up. This is your visit. What kind of questions do you have for the doctor?” Parents usually have some idea of what’s going on with their kids’ health and can also say, “You asked me about (whatever the health issue is). Maybe you should ask your doctor about this.” As kids get older, it helps to let them know that what they say to their doctor is private.

    What resources do you share as kids head into their teen years?

    At yearly checkups, I give handouts on growth and development and a bibliography of resources relevant for the child’s age. Once we get to the teen years, I have separate handouts for parents and my patients. Kids are becoming more independent and making more decisions on their own, so we need to gradually allow them to have more choices in their healthcare.

    What topics do you cover with teens?

    We talk about developmental milestones, like driving, and we also discuss mental health, drugs, sexuality, and high-risk behaviors. Often adolescents don’t know they have questions until I bring these topics up, so I always make room for them to ask questions in private. Many kids are very appreciative of the conversations we have. If it’s hard for them to talk to their parents, I can be a safe buffer.

    How do you help teens and parents work together around sensitive healthcare topics?

    I want parents and kids to have good communication. If kids are having a mental health or reproductive issue, with their permission, we can all discuss it together. I’ll say, “We need your parents to help you with this and to be a team to get the best possible care and answers.” Once I talk it through, they usually understand that it works much better if their family is involved.

    Hear more of Dr. Kaneshiro’s tips on New Day Northwest and teach your patients (young and old!) how they can access healthcare through these Premera resources:

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