What kind of doctor is right for an adult with a pediatric illness?

Transitioning from a pediatrician to an adult healthcare provider is not always easy, particularly for young children who have grown up with a congenital or chronic illness. For them, finding an adult doctor who is as familiar with their condition as their pediatrician can be problematic. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A growing number of doctors receive extensive training in both internal medicine and pediatrics, and they are caring for people across the life spectrum. So-called med-peds physicians see people of all ages, and in many cases, they care for entire families.

"The versatility of these practitioners in both pediatrics and adult medicine is very helpful, especially for children with chronic or debilitating illnesses," says Alice Kuo, MD, PhD, director of the training program. "Because traditional internal medicine training doesn't cover childhood conditions, many adult providers are uncomfortable with classically pediatric illnesses, such as
cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis or congenital heart disease. As a result, many adults with these conditions continue to see pediatric specialists since they have not been able to find the right adult provider."

Even for people without complex medical illnesses, there are many advantages to being able to keep one’s childhood physician into adulthood, says Eric Curcio, MD, co-director of Santa Monica-UCLA Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. "It makes a big difference when the doctor has a good feel for the family context. So much of what goes into being a good primary-care physician involves providing advice based on an understanding of the person’s social context -- including the strengths and limitations of the family."

That family context comes from treating people across their lifespan, but it can also come from seeing children, their parents and, in some cases, their grandparents. The convenience for parents to schedule back-to-back appointments for themselves and their children is a major bonus for many. In addition, the strength of med-peds physicians in treating both children and adults makes the practice particularly appealing to adolescents and young adults, whose needs often involve both types of expertise.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.