Conference Coverage

Are your patients ready for the transition to adult care?



– All too often, children and adolescents stumble on their way to adult health care – if they make it at all.

In fact, data from an ongoing survey by the Department of Health & Human Services and the Health Resources and Services Administration indicate that only 40% of children with special health care needs aged 12-17 years receive the services necessary to make transitions to adult health care.

“Most fall off the proverbial cliff and do not engage with adult providers,” Cynthia Peacock, MD, said at the annual meeting of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. She recalled meeting with one individual who, after being a patient at the children’s hospital for 13 years, was told over the phone to transition to an adult provider with not so much as a promised letter of introduction being sent on. “She did not know about the adult health care culture, which is fractured in care, relies on the patient to be their own advocate, and wants patients to be able to do their visit in 10-15 minutes.”

Dr. Peacock, medical director of the Transition Medicine Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, described transition health care as a purposeful, planned migration from child-oriented to adult-oriented health care, a process that should start as early as possible. “Starting at age 12 is not too early,” she said. “It gives you time so that you can keep introducing the concept when that individual keeps coming back to see you, especially if it’s a chronic condition.”

She recommended that clinicians ask several questions to assess transition readiness of pediatric patients to adult care, including, Do you know your medications? Do you know how to take them? Do you know how to refill them? Do you know how to discuss them? Can you discuss your medical condition with the adult doctor? Can you call for a doctor’s appointment or get a prescription filled? “Adolescents are notorious for calling [the doctor’s office], and if they’re told they can’t make an appointment, that’s it; they stop right there,” Dr. Peacock said. “They don’t tend to problem solve. They don’t engage.”

Studies have suggested that the transfer of care is more likely to be successful if a formal transition program is in place to prepare the patient and to facilitate the change in health care providers. “There is a growing evidence base in the literature that skills training for young people with chronic illnesses can be associated with positive outcomes,” she said. “This can be as easy as telling the individual, ‘Do a book report about your condition. Talk to a friend. Tell a friend what your condition is. Or, do school science fair project and talk to your class about what you have.’ Get them past that uncomfortable feeling of having to talk about it.”

The earlier this happens, the better. “We know from research that if you get them to be their own [health care] advocate, that’s one less thing they have to do in the adult health care system,” she said. “They will move on to other things, such as getting a job or going to college.”

Dr. Peacock, who is board certified in pediatrics and internal medicine, added that providing adolescents with the option of being seen by professionals without their parents is considered best practice. “You could start by introducing the concept at age 12, but say at age 13, ‘I want to spend a minute with you alone without your parent. I want you to bring in questions that you want to ask me that you may not want to ask in front of your parents,’” she said. “I guarantee you that on that third visit the adolescent will ask you a question.”

Optimistic messaging is another component of effective planning. “You may see someone in your office with a disease that you know has high mortality and high morbidity, and you’re trying to help the family cope,” Dr. Peacock said. “That young person needs to be asked, ‘What are your plans for your future?’ Think about it: In 10 or 20 years when you’re transitioning that individual out of your health care system, what medical miracles have happened?” She recalled visiting with the mother of a patient with Down syndrome who had significant congenital heart disease. He was in his 30s and struggled to keep his behavior in check. “We were trying to develop a behavior plan, but his past care team had never put one in place for him,” Dr. Peacock said. “The mother looked at me and said, accusingly, ‘It’s your fault. It’s all of your doctors’ faults because they never told me that this would happen. They told me to take him home and spoil him because he would not be around at this age.’”

Effective transition handoffs are collaborative, she continued, with care plans built around what is likely to happen with the patient over time. “At Baylor College of Medicine, pediatric dermatologists follow patients for life, but I take over everything else adult care related,” Dr. Peacock said. “The pediatric dermatologist has me come over to the hospital when we’re talking about quality-of-life issues – about advance care, advanced directives, those types of things.”

She recommends not transferring care to an adult provider during pregnancy, hospitalization, during active disease, or during changes to a patient’s medical therapy. “When pediatricians call me from the hospital and they want an urgent transfer, I tell them, ‘Your emergency is not my urgency. Get everything ready; get them discharged. Get them followed up and back on their chronic care management, and I’ll be happy to do that transition for you,’ ” she said. “It’s also good to leave that door open for the adult provider to call you. Give them your cell phone number because it may be just one question, like, ‘Can you tell me why his liver enzymes are elevated? We can’t figure it out.’ ”

Dr. Peacock advises pediatric providers to develop processes within their own practice that facilitates transfer, “even if it just means sharing information with the adult provider at the end of the time you’re seeing that young adult. Know your systems and your resources. Get that medical summary done, even if it’s making the patient do the medical summary.” More information for clinicians and for patients and their families can be found at

She reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

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