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Why so many young adults still go to their childhood pediatrician

Posted July 14

Young adults are staying longer on their parents' health plans, and they're staying on with their pediatricians, too, The New York Times reports. At what point should your child stop seeing their pediatrician? (Deseret Photo)

Young adults are staying on their parents' health-insurance plans longer, and they're seeing their childhood pediatricians even when they're old enough to have families of their own.

Is this evidence of a catastrophically dependent generation that will be unable to function as independent adults, or a good thing?

The New York Times doesn't pick sides but interviewed both patients and doctors about the increasingly relaxed guidelines governing who pediatricians see. Previous generations were expected to leave a pediatrician's care sometime between when they could vote or legally drink whisky. Many of today's young adults, however, cling to the doctor that gave them their preschool immunizations until they're asked to leave — and sometimes longer than that.

Dr. Karen Soren, director of adolescent health care at the New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, did practically everything but drive one of her patients to another doctor's office when the young woman aged out.

"I printed out her vaccines, her medical records. I made an appointment for her with the new doctor," Soren told journalist Jane H. Furse, who wrote the Times report. "She went once, but said she went into the waiting room and there were all these ‘old people.’ A year later she came back to refill her birth control pills, so I began seeing her again.”

Another New York pediatrician, Dr. Ramon Murphy, is still treating a 26-year-old woman who is now in medical school. She emailed Furse, "I don't have to leave Dr. Murphy, do I? I'm only 26!" and said she sometimes wondered if the young mothers in the waiting room with their babies assume she's a new mom, too.

A young adult's desire to stay with a childhood pediatrician may stem from affection or convenience, but it may also be because in some parts of the country, it's getting harder to find a primary care physician. The number of family doctors is in decline, in part because of competition with better-paid specialties.

But staying on with a doctor who has Legos in the waiting room presents its own problems. Some children are uncomfortable seeing a pediatrician of a different gender after they hit puberty (which is increasingly happening at an earlier age). This is one reason for the rise of medical practices that specialize in adolescents, the Times' report notes.

But even those clinics are extending the maximum age. The Audubon Family Planning Practice and Young Men's Clinic at New York-Presbyterian Hospital sees men through age 35, Furse wrote.

Then there's the problem that board certified pediatricians are supposed to treat patients 21 and younger. If you're admitted to the hospital after you turn 18, you won't be on the pediatrics floor, and a pediatrician may not be able to care for you there.

There are exceptions, however. A doctor trained in both pediatrics and internal medicine, colloquially called a "med-ped," sees patients through all stages of life (excluding female reproductive health). And a family doctor, also known as a primary care physician, treats from cradle to grave.

No matter who they see, young adults can enjoy health insurance courtesy of the Affordable Care Act, which allows them to stay on their parents' policies until they turn 26.

EMAIL: jgraham@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @grahamtoday

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  • Stacie Hagwood Jul 14, 8:05 p.m.
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    When each of my daughters hit about 9 years old, I switched them to a female family practitioner, with the idea that as they came into puberty, they would have a female doctor they could develop a long-term relationship, and be someone they could confide in about medical concerns, outside my presence, and now at 18 and 21, they are comfortable discussing things with her that they aren't comfortable talking to me about. And I'm ok with that I feel blessed that they can open up to her and discuss their bodies, which is the only way they will be able to advocate for themselves.