Ask an Expert: When should my child switch to an adult medical practitioner?

Q: At what point should I switch my child from a pediatrician to a physician who specializes in treating adults?

A: This is a question frequently asked by parents of older teens. The right time to transition your child to a family medicine or internal medicine physician depends on several factors. First, check with your child’s pediatrician about office policies on treating older teens and young adults. Some pediatricians treat infants, children, and youths up to age 21 — following the same practice as Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. Other pediatricians prefer to transition their 18-year-old patients to an adult-centered health care provider. And older teens often make their own decisions to leave the doctor of their childhood as they head off to college or work.

Switching from a pediatrician to an adult practitioner may be a lengthier process for children with developmental problems or chronic health conditions such as cerebral palsy or hypertension. In these special cases, a pediatrician may prefer to co-manage the health of a patient beyond age 21 with an adult specialist or pediatric subspecialist. Moreover, most pediatricians refer young females who are sexually active to the services of an obstetrician/gynecologist.

Regardless of age, however, make sure your children understand the concept of taking care of their health. Encourage adolescents to speak for themselves instead of turning to parents for answers to a doctor’s questions. By the time they reach their late teens, they should feel comfortable talking to a physician, following through with their appointments, managing their medications, and asking their own questions during an office visit.

Shayla Toombs-Withers, D.O., practices family medicine at UT Erlanger Primary Care on Pineville Rd. For more information or to make an appointment with Dr. Toombs-Withers, call 423-778-2564.