Every so often my 26-year-old daughter complains that her back hurts and wonders if she should go to a chiropractor. I suggest that she first find an internist and get an annual physical — which she never does. Instead she uses a walk-in medical center when needed. The last time she saw a personal doctor was when she visited her pediatrician four years ago.
She's typical of many millennials. While some refuse to give up their pediatrician, most head to the emergency room, a walk-in clinic or even their local drugstore when they need medical treatment. Only 43 percent use a primary care physician, the lowest of any age group.
So what's wrong with that? When our adult children see whomever is on call instead of their own physician, they risk shortchanging their health care, experts say. They need to see providers who are familiar with personal and family medical histories. Physical and mental health problems overlooked at a young age often return and last into adulthood, according to a medical study.
Many mental health conditions initially show up for the first time in young adults, says Helle Thorning, a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. "Young adults need providers to do some basic screening for depression, eating disorders, anxiety and substance use. It takes time to develop a relationship with a person and to get them to talk and reveal any problems."
Millennials give a variety of answers for why they choose walk-in clinics: It's too complicated to find out an in-network physician; they don't want to spend hours waiting in an office; they're unsure of how much it will cost (and what's a deductible anyway?). There's always Google, with nearly a third admitting they self-diagnose. It's not because they lack health insurance: The number of uninsured millennials has declined to an all-time low of 11 percent.
Helping young adults take responsibility for health care has become such a concern that the federal government funded the Center for Health Care Transition Improvement. Patience White, a rheumatologist and codirector of the program, offers these suggestions for you to help your child take charge of their health.
Be a role model. "We know Americans aren't very good at preventive care. They leave the pediatrician at ages 13 to 15, and then don't show up again until their 50s. Make sure you have an annual physical and talk about preventive care yourself. Also show them that you have your information, from medical history to prescriptions, organized and accessible."
Share family medical history. "Often there are conditions like high cholesterol or blood pressure that they are not aware of. No one is looking for that when they go to a walk-in clinic for a sore throat. They need to be checked for those conditions early when they are most preventable and treatable."
Help them get started. Young adults turn to Mom most often for health questions. "Trying to find a primary care physician within a network is confusing. It takes time and assistance."
Refer them to online resources. GotTransition.org provides answers to many questions at a resource page. The nonprofit Young Invincibles also offers helpful information, including an app for finding a physician.
Get them to complete their medical history. Several apps are available to store medical information, including allergies and emergency contacts, so it will be readily accessible. While this may seem a no-brainer, "The number of adults who don't carry a summary of medical information is remarkable," White says.
Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at http://Mothering21.com.