Expert Advice

Age Cut-Off for Visiting a Pediatrician?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q
At what age do you consider transferring a child from a pediatrician to a family practitioner? My son is 16 and is beginning to be uncomfortable going to a "baby" doctor.
A
There is not an exact age that is appropriate for changing to an "adult" doctor. It really is a personal decision that you and your son can make together. Although many consider pediatricians as "baby" doctors, pediatricians are well trained specialists in the care of newborns, children, and adolescents, often until they finish college. Some pediatricians even take care of young adults with chronic diseases with whom they have long established relationships, since diagnoses were made when the patients were young.

As I'm sure you're experiencing, adolescents are unique. They are a special population that requires more health supervision during this critical period in their lives. Your child needs to build a partnership with his doctor, so he can be prepared for the future. There needs to be a good discussion about physical development, sexual development, healthy habits, how life is with his friends, how he feels about being successful, and his life in the future. We certainly want your son to be well educated about the importance of preventing substance abuse, maximizing his mental health, and developing healthy habits.

What is most important is that your son always be linked to a medical home offering appropriate health services. I recommend he continue getting health supervision by any health professional he feels comfortable with and has confidence in, so that issues and opportunities necessary to care for him are tailored to meet his individual needs.

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

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