Job 1 for adolescents is to gain knowledge and independence as they navigate an increasingly complex world. That includes gradually assuming responsibility for their own healthcare needs, especially as they prepare to leave home for college, work or other adventures as mature adults.
High schools have long offered health or “sex-ed” classes, which should include information and coaching to enable adolescents to partner effectively with their providers for all routine and other care needs.
Nemours Children’s Health System, based in Delaware and one of the largest children’s health systems in the United States, offers a free curriculum designed to educate high-school-age students about how the health system works and how to get the most from their healthcare visits.
The curriculum, Navigating the Health Care System , is offered through Moving Healthcare Upstream, a collaboration of Nemours and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Healthier Children, Families & Communities. It has been tested in programs involving nearly 3500 students across four states, with positive results.
The curriculum is designed to be presented in four 45-minute modules:
- Definitions (health, health care, self-advocacy, health literacy), types of care (emergency department, urgent care, primary care provider), self-advocacy, and personal/family medical history
2. Symptoms, diagnosis, medications and vaccinations
3. Health insurance and adolescents’ right to privacy
4. Practical application of the skills covered through real-life scenarios and role-plays
I became aware of this program through a message from Geri Baumblatt on the online Open Forum of the Society for Participatory Medicine. Baumblatt, who serves on the SPM board, saw the story posted to a listerv focused on health literacy.
Ilene Corina, founder and president of the Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy, also offers programs and resources aimed at informing teens and helping them learn to advocate for themselves and family member in healthcare encounters. Her work with Uniondale High School on Long Island, New York, is described here.