by Dr. Gina Rosenfeld
Pediatrician or Family Practice Physician:
Many parents are unsure of when their child is too old to continue seeing a pediatrician. Some parents switch their children to a traditional primary care physician sometime during the child’s early to mid-teens, or as soon as the child outgrows the cartoon character décor of the pediatric office. This switch doesn’t have to take place so early! In reality, a pediatrician can provide care for children up to the age of 19 and in the case of some insurance policies, up to the age of 21.
Benefits of keeping adolescents with their pediatrician:
Allowing a child to stay with the same pediatrician through adolescence and into the late teens years allows for excellent continuity of care. When a pediatrician treats a child from infancy, she will watch the child as they grow and will be more likely to recognize subtle changes in the child’s health that a less familiar physician may miss. As the child grows and becomes a teenager, they may have questions about their health that they find difficult discussing with other adults or a doctor who doesn’t know them as well. By having a long-standing relationship with their doctor and the protection of doctor/patient confidentiality laws, a pediatrician can easily become a trusted confidant in a child’s life.
When you have to find a new doctor for your adolescent:
Unfortunately, maintaining continuity of care isn’t always possible. Parents are forced to move for their jobs, teenagers eventually flee the nest and changes in insurance require new doctor/patient relationships to form from scratch. When an adolescent must change doctors, it is recommended that they be involved in and allowed to “interview” prospective physicians through a “Meet the Doctor”. The “Meet the Doctor” visit is a short appointment that allows patients to ask questions they may have about the doctor and the office, and also gives the doctor the opportunity to ensure the office is capable of providing the level of care which the patient requires. Establishing rapport during a “Meet the Doctor” visit will ease tensions and make the patient more comfortable with the doctor during their first official visit. Parents of teenagers are encouraged to respect the opinions that their children have about the pediatrician they see and to take their concerns into consideration before assigning a permanent physician.
Parents are reminded that the teenage years are a confusing time for many adolescents. Communication is important and will help make a smooth as possible transition into adulthood. Since teens are not always willing to discuss what makes them uncomfortable, parents should never be afraid of initiating a dialogue with their child to ensure they are comfortable with the medical care they receive. Parents should also stress the importance of being honest with their pediatrician because much of the care that doctors prescribe is based on the information given to them by their patients.
When the time comes for a teen to leave the care of a pediatrician, the doctor can provide a personal recommendation of a trusted primary care provider that can continue to provide quality medical care. A recommendation from a trusted pediatrician will considerably narrow down the search for a new doctor and make the transition to a new doctor seem less intimidating.