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Preparing Teens With Diabetes for Adult Care

Most children with diabetes get medical care from a pediatric endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in treating kids and teens). As teens near adulthood, it’s time to begin making plans to change to a specialist who cares for adults. Getting ready for this transition will also prepare your child to take more responsibility for their own care.

When Should My Teen Switch to Adult Care?

If your teen’s diabetes doctor cares for people of all ages, you don’t need to make a change, unless your teen moves out of the area.

Teens who go to a pediatric endocrinologist should switch to a doctor for adult care when they’re between 18 and 21 years old. (This also is the right time to change to an adult primary care provider if your child sees a pediatrician.)

How Can We Prepare for the Switch to Adult Care?

A good time to start the move to adult care is when kids are around age 12. Work with your child to help them slowly take on more responsibility for managing their own diabetes care. Your support will help them build confidence. Your encouragement will teach them the value of using their care plan.

By the time they switch providers, your teen should know how to:

  • Talk about their health and medical history.
  • Follow their diabetes care plan. This means knowing about their medicines, how and when to check glucose levels, and when to contact their care team.
  • Handle an emergency (like high blood sugar or low blood sugar).
  • Find their insurance information.
  • Schedule an appointment.
  • Refill a prescription.
  • Deal with device problems (like an insulin pump or continuous glucose monitor).

How Do We Prepare for a Move Away From Home?

If your teen will move out of the area, together you should:

  • Organize their health information. A few months before they move, gather and review your teen’s medical history with them. Give them the contact information for all their doctors.
  • Get set up with a new endocrinologist. Help your teen find an endocrinologist close to where they’ll live. Schedule an appointment. Transfer all their health records to the new doctor before the first visit. You’ll need to sign a consent with the current doctor’s office giving them permission to send the records.
  • Create a patient portal account. Most doctor’s offices now make health records easy to access with an app. If your teen doesn’t have an account, help them set one up. They’ll be able to see their medicines, allergies, immunizations, and test results, and send messages to their care team.
  • If your teen is heading to college, encourage them to contact student health services to coordinate with their new endocrinologist. It’s also a good idea to reach out to the college’s office of disability services and talk to professors about accommodations and academic plans in case of illness.
  • If your teen will start a job, encourage them to talk with their employer about diabetes. Explain they may need to snack often or take frequent bathroom breaks.

How Do We Find a Doctor Who Cares for Adults With Diabetes?

Ask your current provider or your insurance for a list of endocrinologists. If your teen’s off to college, student health services may be able to make a referral. A local support group, JDRF, or the American Diabetes Association also might have suggestions.