November 03, 2021
A pediatrician often cares for a child from the time they are born through early adolescence. Eventually, some teens tire of being the oldest person in the waiting room, or their doctor may stop seeing patients after a certain age.
If you’re getting the sense that it’s time for your older child to make the switch from their pediatrician to a family doctor or adult primary care practice, here are a few things to consider.
It’s important to understand the crucial differences between a family doctor and a pediatrician. Pediatricians are primary care physicians who receive training in internal medicine and complete their residency focused on children. They also need to pass a special pediatric board exam. That means there’s nothing wrong with seeing a pediatrician until a child is an adult — they have the general knowledge you would expect from any primary care doctor.
A family doctor, on the other hand, is prepared to care for the entire family. They can diagnose illness, provide routine screenings, and help with lifestyle changes to keep patients healthy. If you have a condition which requires a specialist, they will refer you to someone and coordinate your overall care.
Some primary care practices specialize in treating only adults. These are usually called internal medicine practices and will typically not treat patients under 18.
There is no set date that’s right for a child to transition away from their pediatrician. Some pediatric practices may have a firm rule for when to switch, but many teenagers end up making the decision themselves when they feel ready. When that time comes, encourage your child to have a one-on-one conversation with their current physician. This will help them learn how to take responsibility for their own healthcare and become an effective advocate for themselves.
The transition process should be planned out with your teen and their pediatrician about a year in advance so there is plenty of time to identify a practice that is accepted by your insurance plan and for your child’s health records to be sent to the new doctor. These records generally include the notes from the latest physical examinations, a vaccine history, and a list of currently prescribed medications and allergies. Let your child take the lead as you work together to find the right doctor, and arm them with important information — like medication dosages and family health history — so they’ll be fully equipped to manage their own health and wellness in the future.
The moment your child moves on from the caregiver that has overseen their health for the first years of their life is understandably one of anxiety. However, it’s also an opportunity to set your child up for a lifetime of being in control of their own care—and ready to someday teach their own children the same.