By Raising Children Network, with the Centre for Adolescent Health
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Eligible Australian teenagers can apply for a Medicare card at 15 years without their parents’ permission. A card can be provided at a younger age if the child’s family asks for it.

 

As your child gets older, he’ll be more likely to see his GP confidentially, without you with him. This is an important change and one that you can support your child to make.

Seeing the GP alone: making the transition

At the beginning of adolescence, you’ll generally be fully responsible for your child’s health care. But by the end of adolescence, your child is assumed to be able to make decisions about her health for herself. This includes seeing a doctor on her own, confidentially. 

You can help your child make the transition, but he’ll need your support as he gains this independence.

Encouraging your child’s ‘health independence’

As your child moves towards ‘health independence’, you’ll need to feel confident she has the skills to manage her own health, and to get the best health and wellbeing outcomes she can.

Your child won’t become an expert manager of his health overnight – just as with other skills, he’ll need practice.

Working out the right time for you both
While your child is still in early adolescence, it can be a good idea for him to see the doctor alone for part of a consultation. Generally, doctors who see adolescent children will try to arrange for this to happen. This time can be gradually increased. By later adolescence, your child will probably be comfortable seeing the doctor for the whole consultation by himself.

When should this start? After all, one 13-year-old might want to try seeing the doctor alone, whereas the idea might make another child the same age feel very stressed. It’s something you and your child can work out together. Talk to your child to see what she’s comfortable with, and check again before appointments to see how she’s feeling about it.

Benefits of your child seeing a doctor alone

Seeing a doctor without you there creates confidentiality for your child, which is at the heart of the doctor–patient relationship. Confidentiality gives the doctor an extra strategy to help your child talk openly. And it can help the doctor reinforce the vital role you play in your child’s life, health and wellbeing.

As adults, when we go to the doctor we expect that our health issues will be kept private. Knowing this helps us trust our GP. This trust makes us feel comfortable so we can tell the doctor what the doctor needs to know to make the right diagnosis, offer the best advice and provide the right treatment.

Your child needs to build up that same sense of trust – and he can do it through seeing the doctor alone.

When your child sees a trusted doctor alone, she’s more likely to be honest about her worries, such as bullying at school, relationships or substance use. She’s also more likely to ask questions about sensitive matters, giving the doctor the chance to offer guidance on issues that might come up in the future.

This also gives your child the chance to practise communicating with a doctor alone, a skill he’ll need for the rest of his life. And it helps him take greater responsibility for his health.

Last, allowing your child to see the doctor alone shows that you support her developing independence.

When your child sees the doctor without you present, it gives the GP a chance to assess your child’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. The doctor will find out how your child is going at school and with friends, whether your child has any emotional concerns, whether she’s safe in terms of relationships and substance use, and whether she is engaged in any risky behaviour. 

Choosing a new doctor

Talk with your child about how comfortable he feels going to the family doctor for a whole range of things, not just coughs and colds. For many young people, continuing to see the family GP is fine. But for some, visiting the same doctor they’ve seen since childhood – and the same one that you see – just isn’t on.

Your child might want to see a different doctor because she:

  • doesn’t feel comfortable with the family doctor any more
  • wants to see a doctor who doesn’t know her parents
  • wants to talk more openly about issues such as relationships (including sexual matters), mental health or substance use
  • wants to manage her own health, starting a brand new doctor–patient relationship
  • doesn’t trust the family doctor with confidential information.

If your child decides to change doctors, it’s helpful to remind him about important aspects of his personal or family history – for example, allergies, asthma or diabetes – for his new file.

In Australia, the age at which a young person is able to consent to simple health care treatments without involving a parent or guardian is around 14 years. The law recognises that teenagers’ health care rights and responsibilities change as they move towards adulthood.