Monday, October 7, 2019

Your 16-year-old Checkup: Why It’s important and What to Expect

Hannah Canter, MD
Pediatric Resident at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School
Member, Texas Medical Association

Editor’s Note: Me And My Doctor is highlighting the importance of vaccinations and overall teen health in a two-part blog series. This comes after leading medical and public health organizations issued a joint call-to-action urging health care professionals to establish an adolescent health care visit at 16 years of age to ensure their patients receive recommended adolescent vaccines. Part 1, titled “Teens Need Their Vaccines,” describes the different recommended immunizations, including meningococcal vaccines and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Regular medical checkups are an important way to keep track of your health and development. This includes the patient’s physical, emotional, and social aspects. By the time you are a teenager, checkups typically should happen once a year. If you are like most teens, you are probably fairly healthy. You might wonder why you need to see a doctor at all, and you most likely feel a little nervous about how the encounter might go.

The 16-year-old well-check visit is particularly important. Understanding why and knowing what to expect will help you feel more prepared and allow you to get the most out of the visit.

Prior to the Visit
Before the visit, gather health-related documents, including: medical records from visits to the doctor, hospital or emergency department; sports physical forms; other school paperwork such as 504 plans (formal plans schools develop to assist students with disabilities); Individualized Education Plans (IEPs – documents developed for students who need special education). You should also make note of any questions you have for your doctor.

During your Visit
Once you arrive, a medical staff member will check your height, weight, blood pressure, and vision. You’ll go to an exam room and change into a gown. When the physician arrives, describe any medical changes that have occurred since your last visit, as well as things like nutrition, exercise, sleep, school, and any other concerns that you or your parents might have.

At this point your doctor should ask your parents to leave the room to have a private conversation with you, the patient. This is your opportunity to ask any questions or mention anything you might be uncomfortable discussing with your parents present. Your doctor will also ask some questions to get to know you better. Expect him or her to ask about things like hobbies, life at home and school, puberty, gender, sexuality, sexual activity, mental health, and substance use. Keep in mind that all of this information is private, so it’s important to be honest. This helps the doctor determine if you need any additional help or testing.

When your parents return your doctor will perform a head-to-toe physical, including a brief breast and genital exam. Then your doctor will discuss his or her recommendations. At age 16 you should receive two meningitis vaccines (to prevent serious infections around the brain), as well as the HPV vaccine (to prevent certain cancers) if you have not already had those shots. You’ll also need a blood test for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and testing for sexually transmitted infections if you are sexually active.

After the Visit
Take time to review information given to you by your doctor. Think about goals you might have discussed and realistic ways of working toward them. Follow up with your doctor as planned, and continue to spend time with him or her one-on-one.
The relationship you have your doctor is important, especially as you enter adulthood. Your well-check visit is an exciting and important opportunity to gain more independence and responsibility for your own health.

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