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Are my kids too old to see a pediatrician?

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The question

My kids are 11 and 7. We still go to the pediatrician, but they're the oldest kids in the office. When should they start seeing a family doctor?

The answer

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The most important thing when choosing a health-care provider for your kids is not always the professional designation. It's the level of trust and comfort you have with that person and his or her ability to care for your child.

So, while the textbook answer to when a child should stop seeing a pediatrician is before the age of 18, there is a more personal element to this decision than a simple age limit.

In Canada, about 60 per cent of children are cared for by family doctors and 40 per cent by pediatricians. Both family physicians and pediatricians are equally qualified to care for children, especially when it comes to routine matters such as checkups, vaccinations and mild illnesses such as ear infections and sore throats.

If your child has a complex medical history, however, it may be valuable to continue with a pediatrician. Alternatively, your child could have a regular family physician with a pediatrician acting in a consulting role for the specific medical concern.

To add to the mix, there are increasing numbers of nurse practitioners who have a specialty focus in pediatrics and are also a good option for families.

The benefit of seeing a family doctor is that he or she will be able to see your child within the context of your entire family. Children react to their environment, and a family doctor may know what factors in your home life are possibly affecting your child's health. Also, a family doctor can continue to see your child as he or she ages, which allows for a trusting relationship to grow over time.

A pediatrician, however, will have a higher level of expertise in complex medical issues facing children and can provide excellent care for both routine and continuing medical concerns. And most pediatricians also have specific focuses on complex medical illnesses, which a family doctor may or may not possess.

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Where you live in Canada also dictates who your child will be able to see. In rural areas, the vast majority of pediatric care is done by family doctors, while in larger cities there is often more choice.

Ultimately, this decision is a personal one. If you are choosing to switch to your family doctor's clinic, it may be helpful to first ask if the staff are comfortable seeing children and if they offer after-hours or on-call services.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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