Health care is a right! Everyone at every age and stage of life should be able to get health care when they need it. And everyone should have access to information and resources to help them prevent illnesses and diseases.
There are many places where youth obtain their health care, including family doctor’s offices, health department clinics, community health centers, family planning* clinics, school health clinics, adolescent health clinics, college campus health centers, hospitals, and facilities for treatment of diseases which require long-term care, such as mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, or recovery from major injuries.
There are many types of healthcare providers. Usually they are sorted between being “generalists” and “specialists.” Examples of a generalist are the primary care provider or dentist. These healthcare providers handle most of a person’s health care issues and questions, and then they refer the person to a specialist if the person is presenting a health issue that is more complex.
Healthcare providers are not just doctors. There are many other types of healthcare providers, including nurses, nurse practitioners, therapists, counselors, psychologists, orthodontists, x-ray technicians, phlebotomists (the technicians who draw blood), acupuncturists, chiropractors and more. In other words, getting health care to you (we call this “healthcare delivery”) takes a team!
Healthcare costs are covered in several ways. Sometimes care is free to youth or their family (the “healthcare consumer”) for something like a test for a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Other times the fee for the healthcare service is taken care of by health insurance. And still other times, especially when the consumer is not covered by health insurance, the consumer may be responsible for paying all or some of the fee for the healthcare service. This is usually handled on what is called a “sliding fee scale” where individuals pay different amounts depending on how much income they can contribute to health care (this is called “ability to pay”).
It is highly recommended that everyone have a stable healthcare organization (a “medical home”) and a primary care provider. It is also important that you have regular visits with your primary care provider. These regular visits have a few names and include “annual physical,” “annual check-up,” well visit,” and “health supervision visit.”
There are a few more healthcare concepts important for all people, but especially youth. One is privacy. You have the right to have healthcare conversations and examinations conducted with a healthcare provider in such a way that no people (including parents or caring adults) are able to hear or watch them. A second concept is confidentiality. That means the healthcare provider can’t share information they have about you without your permission, unless it’s to protect you from immediate harm or if you are below a certain age (usually 17 and under) and a state law requires or allows the provider to share the health information with a parent or guardian. Because the rules on confidentiality vary state to state, it’s important that you ask your healthcare provider to explain the confidentiality policy before you start a healthcare conversation or examination.
And then there is the concept of consent. Consent means that the healthcare provider must obtain your permission to receive an examination or treatment. Again, if you are below a certain age, the healthcare provider may have to get consent from a parent or guardian before they can treat you. The rules vary by state and also by health situation. So it’s important to have your healthcare provider explain consent laws before your health examination gets started.
You may not have questions about how and where you get health care just now because an adult in your life is responsible for selecting your primary healthcare provider and making sure there is a way to pay for health care when you need it.
It’s important to learn the ropes about how the healthcare system works because eventually you will be making these arrangements for yourself, if you have not done so already.
* “Family planning” describes health services such as contraceptive services, pregnancy testing and counseling, helping someone achieve pregnancy, basic infertility services, preconception health services, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) vaccination, testing, and treatment services. Family planning clinics serve adolescents and adults of all genders.