Pediatricians vs. family doctors: Choosing for your child

The days of growing up visiting a family doctor have long passed for most families, as more and more parents choose to bring their children to pediatricians instead. Although both pediatricians and family doctors are trained to provide care to children, studies have shown these different specialties recommend different prevention and treatment strategies to their patients.

In choosing a doctor for your child, remember “choosing” is the operative word. It’s a choice, so make it an informed one.

Pediatricians, because they focus solely on the care of children, are more likely to be aware of developments in children’s medication and care, says Dr. Gary Freed, lead author of a study about pediatric health care trends and director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan Health System. But family doctors are more likely to discuss domestic abuse issues or smoking cessation with teens who smoke.

“Really it’s a philosophical issue for parents,” says Freed. “Do you want a doctor trained to focus on the child or a physician who will care for the whole family and have a broader, less deep focus?”

About 90 percent of young children see pediatricians, both because parents are choosing this more and because more family doctors are choosing to focus solely on adults. A previous study found that family physicians, perhaps because they’re seeing fewer children, were less likely than pediatricians to believe they were competent to discuss with parents the conditions in the newborn screening panels and less likely to recommend the flu vaccine for pediatric patients with asthma, says Freed.

In the past, the trend was to move adolescents into family practices, but now the majority of teens stay with their pediatrician. “Perhaps because there’s been a greater emphasis on training pediatricians in the care of adolescents, so they likely feel more comfortable and competent,” Freed says.

When it comes to choosing the best doctor for your child, Freed says it’s really up to you. “Each one has its own thing that the other doesn’t do. The key question is what the family wants and what is best for the children.”

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