New program helps patients transition from pediatric care at Children’s of Alabama to adult care at UAB

The STEP program will ease pediatric patients with chronic conditions into adult clinics at UAB as they outgrow pediatric settings.

STEP2A new collaboration between Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham is helping adolescent patients with chronic and complex childhood medical conditions transition to adult health care.

The Staging Transition for Every Patient (STEP) Program opens Sept. 2, in UAB Medicine’s Whitaker Clinic of UAB Hospital. The two initiatives included in STEP are:

  • individualized transition planning for adolescent patients beginning around age 14 with complex and chronic health care needs currently treated at Children’s of Alabama to prepare them for adult health care; and
  • a primary care clinic that will serve as an adult medical home to facilitate referrals to specialists, ensuring timely, uninterrupted transition and access to other support services including physical therapy, social work, nutrition and emergency planning.  

“Children diagnosed with chronic conditions often need to continue managing these diseases into adulthood,” said Carlie Stein, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine in the Department of Medicine and medical director for the STEP Program. “Many of these conditions were historically associated with shortened lifespans — for example, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, sickle cell disease — but now these patients have increased life expectancy due to treatment advances. Therefore, we see an increasing need to develop adult health care specialty clinics for these patients as they grow older.”

The program will help patients make the transition to an adult care model, including the transfer of responsibility for health care-related decisions from the parent or caregiver to the individual.

“We will work with patients, encouraging them to practice the skills necessary to take responsibility for their own health — how to make appointments, how to get their medications from the pharmacy — as a way to foster their independence as they grow into adulthood,” said Betsy Hopson, program director.

Children’s and UAB already share staff and facilities, but the STEP Program is the first formal program of its kind in Alabama and the surrounding region. This transition of care ensures that patients are matched with primary care physicians who are prepared to handle complex medical conditions, because not all primary care physicians are experienced in treating chronic diseases stemming from childhood, and patients with chronic diseases do not always need to see a specialist.

Patients can get a referral to the STEP Program from their Children’s specialist or their pediatrician. Patients with a complex or chronic disease of childhood and at least 18 years old can call the UAB Primary Care Access Center to schedule a new patient appointment with the STEP Clinic at 205-801-7474. To begin transition planning from the Children’s side, call 205-638-9100 and ask to be connected with the STEP Program.