Entering the adult world of healthcare

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Being transferred from children’s (paediatric) to adult healthcare is part of becoming an adult and it brings along some challenges. This process is often called ‘transition’. It can be compared with other changes, such as moving from primary to secondary school, or going through puberty.

You should have a personal plan for the transition period because, at its worst, a badly handled transition process can make you feel unsure of adult services, and less likely to go to your routine clinical appointments. Obviously, this might have effects on your health.

When does it start?

The timing of the transition depends on lots of things. There are many more reasons but here are just a few:

  • Do you feel ready to move to adult care?
  • Do your doctors feel you’re ready to move to adult care?
  • How severe is your heart defect?
  •  Are skilled health personnel available?

There is often a difference of opinion between healthcare providers and parents about when young people should begin transition. Most experts recommend starting the process early, perhaps from the age of 11. You are gradually introduced to the idea of independent healthcare visits, which means spending time privately with the health professional, without your parents.

Saying goodbye

It’s often quite difficult to say goodbye to paediatric healthcare – not just for you but for your parents and healthcare workers too – after all you have been in children’s healthcare all your life! You may ask yourself a lot of questions about changing over. Do the people at the adult clinic know as much about my disease as they should? Will the care be as good as I am used to? Who will pay for my care – not all countries have healthcare provided by the government.

Be a heart expert

You’ve had your heart defect since you were born, and so you’ve probably been used to your parents taking care of you and your heart – particularly when you were younger. But as you become an adult it is important that you understand all about your heart defect, so that you can have a say when it comes to making decisions about your treatment and medication. Learning about how your heart defect affects your life can also help you bedome more independent.

Here are some questions you should know how to answer by the end of the transition period:

  • Can you explain your condition in your own words?
  • Who knows that you have a heart defect?
  • What do other people think of you having this condition (friends, teachers, neighbours)?
  • How would you tell a new boyfriend/girlfriend about your heart defect?

Teenager friendly

Some young people can feel a bit shy when it comes to talking to health professionals on their own. If you do, don’t worry, it’s very common. You might feel embarrassed or unsure how to ask questions or bring up topics. It is a good idea to prepare for visits by writing down any concerns or questions you may have so you don’t forget to ask anything in your appointment. You could also ask if there are any health personnel available with expertise in adolescent health.

Give parents a break

Just like you, your parents also need a preparation period for transition. They need to get used to the idea that you are going to be seeing healthcare professionals without them. Often it’s not easy for them to let go. Let them know that you still want to talk to them about your consultations and they shouldn’t feel left out, but they also need to realise that being overprotective, or underprotective, could have a bad effect on your transition.

Author(s): Marit Haugdahl
Reviewed by: McDonagh Janet E.
Last updated: 2010-10-07

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