The steps you should take now to protect your college student’s health and wellbeing

August 10, 2021 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD

If your child is starting or returning to college this fall, there are several steps you can take now to help prepare them to handle health issues that arise while they’re away from home. If they haven’t already been active partners in their care, now is a good time to help them learn how to take on this important role.

  • Make sure they know their medical history. Talk with your children about their medical history, for example any past diagnoses and treatments, hospitalizations, allergies, and serious or chronic illnesses they’ve been diagnosed with. If they regularly take medication, make sure they know the brand and generic names for their medications, the dosage, potential interactions, and any drug allergies they’ve experienced. It’s also important that they’re familiar with your family’s (or in the case of children who are adopted, their birth family’s) medical history, including any serious diseases that family members have been diagnosed with and the cause of death of any grandparents, parents, or siblings who have died. A secure electronic medical record that can be shared with any treating physicians is the easiest way to catalogue this information, but a printed record can also be helpful.
  • Connect with local providers. If your children are under a healthcare provider’s care for a condition like diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, sickle cell disease, ADHD, anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder, before the school year starts, connect with a provider close your child’s college or university and arrange an appointment for soon after your child arrives on campus. Your children should share their medical records at or before the first appointment with the new provider to help ensure continuity of care and reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, medication interactions, or other errors or complications. You may also want to find out if your children can continue to see their current hometown providers via telehealth.
  • Transfer prescriptions. If your children take medication to manage a physical or mental health condition, find out if you can transfer their prescription to a pharmacy near their college or university. If not, make sure they start school with enough of a supply of the medication to last until their appointment with their new local provider. Some insurers offer mail order refills, so find out if that’s an option with your plan.
  • Get up to date with check-ups and immunizations. If your child hasn’t had a recent physical, it’s wise to schedule one before they leave for school to check for any changes in their health and to make sure they’re getting the recommended screenings for blood pressure, depression, eating disorders, substance use, and sexually transmitted infections. It’s also an opportunity to keep them up to date on needed immunizations, including vaccines that protect against bacterial meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, HPV, and the flu. Many colleges and universities are now also requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Make sure you can be included in medical decisions. For children 18 or older (19 in some states), parents and guardians need a signed HIPPA authorization to be able to get information about their children’s health. To make medical decisions on your children’s behalf if they are not able to, you’ll also need a medical power of attorney.
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