Health issues change as children age
Many children continue to take comfort in seeing their pediatrician into their teen years and young adulthood. The office is a little kinder and gentler, the doctor knows them well and it’s where they’ve always gone for checkups and the flu. There’s no right time to stop seeing a pediatrician, and some practices will continue to see patients through their college years. Others make it a point to send patients a friendly reminder when they turn 21 that it’s time to find a new doctor.
“Pediatricians specialize in issues that affect younger patients,” said Gary Lawrence, M.D., a pediatrician at Geisinger’s Kistler Clinic in Wilkes-Barre. “Your health issues change as you age, so it’s important to find a doctor who can provide the best care for your particular stage of life.”
Bridging the gap through adolescent medicine
“Knowing when it’s time to move on from a pediatrician may happen naturally,” said Dr. Lawrence. “Your child may bring it up themselves if they feel like they are being treated like a little kid or have more adult issues to discuss with the doctor.”
For many children, these feelings start when they enter puberty, which happens around the age of 12 or 13 – and sometimes earlier. At this point, it may be appropriate to switch to a doctor who specializes in adolescent medicine, which usually covers kids and young adults between the ages of 10 and 25.
Even if your child continues to see a pediatrician, don’t be surprised if the doctor asks you as the parent to leave the examining room during the appointment. As children age, they need privacy to discuss issues they’re dealing with – issues they may not be comfortable bringing up in front of their mom or dad.
“Adolescents and teens are dealing with a variety of issues that a doctor may be able to help with,” said Dr. Lawrence. “They need to feel safe when talking about changes to their body, pressures around drugs, alcohol and relationships, and emotional issues like anxiety and depression.”
Helping children make the transition to adult medicine
“Moving from a pediatrician to an internist or family medicine physician should be a gradual process ideally, not like flipping a switch,” said Dr. Lawrence. “Parents can help their children make this transition by teaching them how to navigate the medical system.”
Parents can make the transition from a pediatrician easier by teaching their children how to:
• Meet new doctors and ask the right questions to see if they are compatible.
• Schedule appointments, get prescriptions filled and work with insurance companies.
• Get referrals from their primary doctor for a visit with a specialist.
• Prepare for appointments by thinking about the questions they want to ask the doctor.
• Maintain detailed records about their medical care and medical history.
• Keep track of their medications and understand potential side effects and drug interactions.
“As your child ages, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to your pediatrician about the next steps in your child’s care,” said Dr. Lawrence. “Many times, pediatricians can help with the transition by setting your expectations, addressing questions or concerns, and recommending a practitioner who treats teens and adults.”
Gary Lawrence, M.D., is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. He sees patients at Geisinger’s Kistler Clinic. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Lawrence or another pediatrician, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.