College Health Checklist: 12 Things To Do Before Your Child Leaves Home

*This post was originally published as a guest blog on one of my favorite teen parenting sites, RaisingTeensToday  Be sure to check out their site!

As parents, when we’re preparing to send our “kidults” off to college, we often spend the last few months before they leave cramming every possible nugget of wisdom into their brain – and rightly so.

And, even though our loving advice, (passed along with all good intentions, of course) might be met with an eye roll and an “Okay! I knoooowwww!” we have to press on because part of the separation process isn’t simply to calm our kid’s nervous excitement, it’s also to calm ours!

As a mom who’s been there (twice) and as a campus health center physician who has treated everything from hangovers to hangnails, here is my college health checklist: 12 things to do before your child leaves home.

1. Take a Picture of Their Insurance Card

The reality is, your child’s first trip to the campus physician will likely be in a “crisis” situation – whether it’s trauma (sprained ankle, concussion, or a cut needing stitches), illness (food poisoning, sinus infection, strep throat, or perhaps a kidney stone), or anxiety (heartbreak, test anxiety or insomnia).

When your child is hurt, nauseated, confused, sad, or feverish, dealing with the basics that you’ve always taken care of can be overwhelming.

To help make their first independent health clinic visit less stressful, have them take a picture of their health insurance cardfront and back, then “favorite” it. Having their insurance card accessible will make it much faster to check in, whether it’s at the campus clinic, an off-campus urgent care, or heaven forbid, an emergency room. (Tip: Make sure your child keeps a list of important phone numbers in their wallet as well, including the name/telephone number of their primary doctor, and any specialists they may need to contact.)

2. Take a Picture of Their Immunization Record

Next, repeat this with their immunization recordWhy? Because the one question that routinely stumps our patients is, “When was your last tetanus shot?” We frequently treat road rash (from falls), burns, and/or scrapes and cuts (from broken glass, fences, or nails) – all of which require a current tetanus vaccination. (Tip: Make sure all your child’s vaccinations are completely up to date. If they plan to study abroad, make sure they set up an appointment with their doctor to ensure they have the necessary vaccines for travel to foreign countries.) 

3. Have Your Child Make Their Own Doctor’s Appointments

When your child checks in with the medical receptionist at the college clinic, they’ll be given a clipboard (or iPad) with a zillion pages of paperwork they have to complete, including insurance questions that ask for not only the elusive group number and ID of the responsible party but also the social security number of the “guarantor.”

This is pure GREEK to most young adults, not to mention filling out the list of medications they’re taking (including doses), past health issues, reactions to medications, allergies, and family history. To prepare your child so they’re not thrown for a loop, let them start making their own doctor’s appointments

Think about a dentist or an orthodontist visit (retainer check), a counselor, the annual eye doctor appointment for glasses or contacts, a dermatology appointment or allergist visit, or perhaps their pre-college physical or routine medication refill visit.

4. Teach Them How to Complete the Medical Paperwork

Go with your young adult (or be available by phone) and have them fill out the paperwork with your guidance. Trust me, most college students have no idea that they had ear tubes or tonsils surgery, or that their family has a history of gallbladder disease, depression, or diabetes. This is critical information for their new healthcare provider! (Tip: Have them take a picture of the completed form so they have the information for future reference.)

5. Plan Ahead for Prescriptions

Your child’s physician may or may not be able to prescribe controlled substances like Adderall, Vyvanse and other ADD meds via telemedicine or across state lines, and many campus clinics choose to not prescribe these medications (due to concerns about abuse).

Check with your prescribing doctor and make certain plans are in place regarding where your student will continue their therapy at their future university. (You can ask the campus clinic for a referral and/or check with local family physicians, psychiatrists, or neurologists.)

6. Teach Them How to Pick Up a Prescription at the Pharmacy

Go to the pharmacy with your child (or be available by phone) and have them drop off and/or pick up a prescription so they can learn the routine exchange of health insurance information as well as privacy releases to sign, especially if there is a controlled substance (ADD medications). Discuss the expected copays and price range for generics vs. name-brand, and always ask about the cost.

(Tip: Did you know that if a medication is super expensive, you have options? First, call your doctor’s office, explain that the cost of the medication is more than you’re willing/able to pay, and ask for an alternative – sometimes, the pharmacy is willing to do this for you. Asthma inhalers, certain antibiotics, and prescription eye drops are common high-priced offenders seen in college health. Second, know that pharmacies in different areas of town – or even across the street – often have significantly lower prices for the same medication. Shop around!)

7. Let Them Handle the Prescription Refills

Many parents take care of calling in prescription refills for routinely prescribed medications, so be sure to have your child do this on their own. Many kids are enormously relieved to learn that this task can usually be done without having to speak directly with another human, but rather by entering numbers or leaving a message.

8. Encourage Them to TAKE CHARGE of Their Own Daily Medications

It’s time to pass the baton to your child. Let them take charge of managing their own daily medications while they are still at home so it becomes an established habit before they leave for college. Weekly pillboxes work GREAT to ensure accuracy when taking daily medications for everything from vitamins and antihistamines to anti-depressants and ADD meds.

9. Talk About Their Sexual Health

All too often, students enter college without adequate knowledge related to sexual health and, subsequently, end up engaging in behavior that places them at increased risk for unintended outcomes including pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as herpes, gonorrhea, HIV, etc. Additionally, although many young adults do understand these risks they, ironically, do not believe that anyone in their circle of friends would have such diseases.

It’s important to note many young adults may not plan to be sexually intimate, yet end up there with intoxicated or hormonally fueled, impulsive choices. Still too many others, sadly, are victims of sexual assault (13% of all college students report nonconsensual sexual contact.) It’s also important to note that unprotected oral sex can spread STDs, too (most commonly herpes).

Before your student ventures off to college, it’s important to have open, candid conversations about these sexual health issues, including discussing the risks of unprotected sex, knowledge about birth control options, what to do if they are the victim of sexual assault, and finally, the importance of STD testing (especially because STDs often have very transient or minimal to no symptoms).

10. Purchase a Small LockBox for Prescriptions

This may not be something most people would think of, but having a small lockbox for prescriptions is important, especially for medications that can be potentially abused (or “borrowed”) in community living.

11. Assemble a Complete College First-Aid Kit

Every college student should have a complete college first-aid kit in their dorm or college apartment.

Start with the basics including a thermometer, good finger, knuckle and blister bandaids, a pulse oximeter, and ACE compression wraps. Bonus points for cuticle scissors, a bulb syringe (flushes ear wax), artificial tears, a reusable ice pack, and a heating pad.

Add in basic over-the-counter medications: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), decongestant (Sudafed), antihistamine (Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec), antacid (TUMS), cough drops, cough/cold syrup (Nyquil), and antibiotic and steroid ointments. Check out the bonus section in The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook for a complete shopping check list and instructions on when to use what!

12. Execute a Medical Power of Attorney and HIPAA Authorization

It’s important to know that once your child turns 18, you no longer have the legal right to know what’s going on with their health care. Filling out a HIPPA release form now will allow you to speak with their future healthcare providers (and vice-versa.) Without this document, clinicians and medical staff cannot even confirm if your kid is present at their facility. Creating a healthcare power of attorney (also known as a healthcare proxy or durable power of attorney for health care) will go a step further, giving you the authority to make health care decisions if your child is incapacitated.

Helping your child take charge of their health before they leave for college starts with you. Loosen your grip and allow them to take the lead so they’re not completely blindsided when they’re required to do it solo.

BOTTOM LINE: With a little guidance and time, your young adult will be successfully managing their own health in no time! 

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