Learning to Use the Healthcare System

Note: The tips shared on this page may refer to "parents," but they also apply to caregivers, such as guardians, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. There are many factors that affect whether a caregiver participates in healthcare visits, provides health supports to young people, or can access an adolescent’s health information.

Preventive healthcare visits offer an ideal opportunity to help teens learn how to navigate the healthcare system. Adolescents need opportunities to gain a better understanding of their own health and to learn what happens during healthcare appointments. Some clinics and offices are making their practices more “teen friendly” so that teens feel welcome. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends providing teens confidential, one-on-one time as a part of routine healthcare as early as age 11 in addition to time together with parents and caregivers. Teens are far more likely to be forthcoming with questions regarding sensitive topics such as drug use, mental health concerns, or sexual activity when alone with healthcare providers.1 One study found that 49 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 reported having time alone during their most recent preventive visit, and only 29 percent reported having alone time during their most recent healthcare visit.2

Receiving regular healthcare at the same primary care facility will introduce teens to the concept of having a “medical home,” or a regular source of healthcare that is “accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-centered, coordinated, compassionate and culturally-effective”3 to improve the quality of healthcare a teen receives.


1 Lawrence, R. S., Gootman J. A., & Sim, L. J. (Eds.). (2009.) Adolescent health services: Missing opportunities. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.back to top

2 Adams, S.H., Po, J., Park, M.J., & Irwin, C.E. (2021). Monitoring adolescents' receipt of time alone from two national surveys. Journal of Adolescent Health, 68(1). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X20302226 back to top

3 American Academy of Pediatrics, Medical Home Initiatives for Children with Special Needs Project Advisory Committee. (2002). The medical home. Pediatrics, 110(1). https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/110/1/184/64107/The-Medical-Home back to top