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Transition of Care: Diabetes

What Does it Mean to Transition Health Care?

As teens with diabetes get older, their health care services will change. They'll need to switch from a pediatric endocrinologist to an adult health care provider as part of learning to manage their diabetes. It's important for teens to learn how to make independent decisions about their health.

When Should Teens With Diabetes Transition to Adult Care?

It depends on the person, but most teens with diabetes should transition to adult health care when they're between 18 and 21. Many are going to college or moving away from home at this age.

How Can Teens With Diabetes Prepare to Transition to Adult Care?

Starting as early as 12 years old, teens with diabetes can start to take charge of their health. Early on, parents can supervise and give more responsibility as their child gets older.

To help prepare, older kids and teens with diabetes should:

  • learn all they can about diabetes
  • know which symptoms mean they're getting sick or their diabetes management plan needs to be changed
  • know the names of all diabetes medicines, the dosages and when to take them, common side effects, and interactions with other medicines
  • be able to answer questions about their health and medical history
  • know what to do in case of an emergency
  • understand the importance of following the treatment plan
  • understand insurance coverage and always carry this information with them

They'll also need to learn how to:

  • schedule medical appointments
  • order prescription refills
  • contact the diabetes care team
  • deal with device problems, if used, such as insulin pumps and blood glucose monitors

What Should Teens Do Before Going to College or Living on Their Own?

Before moving away from home, teens with diabetes should:

  • have copies of their medical records, including medicines, allergies, immunizations, testing, and their endocrinologist's and primary care provider's names and phone numbers
  • find an endocrinologist close to where they're living

Teens going to college should contact:

  • the student health services office so they can coordinate care with the endocrinologist
  • the Office of Disability Services and talk to professors about accommodations and academic plan in case of illness.

Teens who are working should tell their employer how diabetes might affect their work.

How Can We Find a Doctor Who Specializes in Diabetes?

To find an adult doctor who specializes in diabetes:

  • Ask current health care provider for list of endocrinologists in the area your child will be living
  • Contact student health services for referral to local endocrinologists
  • Contact local Medical society for list of endocrinologists
  • Go to the websites or contact local chapters of diabetes organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association or Students with Diabetes

What Else Should I Know?

In addition to making the switch from a pediatric to an adult endocrinologist, it's also important for your child to make the transition to an adult primary care provider (internist, family medicine specialist, or nurse practitioner) to care for non-diabetes health care needs. This person should be able to communicate and coordinate with the endocrinologist, as needed.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2018
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