What is a respiratory physician?

A respiratory physician – also known as a thoracic physician or pulmonologist – is a medical doctor with special training and skills in the diagnosis and treatment of lung conditions and diseases.

A paediatric respiratory physician has completed a minimum of six years of specialist training in child and adolescent lung diseases.

Respiratory physicians might work with people who have sleep and sleep disorders, but they must do specific training to be certified as sleep physicians.

Why your child might see a respiratory physician

If your child has breathing problems, he might see a respiratory physician. A respiratory physician might also treat other breathing problems caused by asthma, cystic fibrosis, persistent cough, noisy breathing or other lung conditions. Respiratory physicians can also help with sleep problems like obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring.

If your child sees a respiratory physician, the physician will examine your child, looking carefully at your child’s growth, heart and lungs. The physician might do a test to see how well your child’s lungs are working or an X-ray to find out what’s going on.

The respiratory physician will also work out the best treatment for your child, which might include medication like a puffer.

To see a respiratory physician, your child will need a referral from your GP or another medical specialist – for example, a paediatrician. Your GP or other doctor can help you decide about seeing a respiratory physician and help you find someone who’s right for your child.

Before going to a respiratory physician

Before seeing a respiratory physician, it’s a good idea to find out some information about the following things:

  • Why you’re going to the respiratory physician: talk with your GP (or the specialist who referred you) about why you need to see a respiratory physician and whether there’s anything you can do while you’re waiting for the appointment.
  • Waiting lists: how long before you can get an appointment to see the respiratory physician? Sometimes it might be faster to see a specialist in private consulting rooms than at the public hospital’s clinic. You can ask your GP (or the specialist who referred you) about what’s best.
  • Making an appointment: it might take you more than one phone call to make an appointment.
  • Costs: how much will the appointment with the respiratory physician cost? If you see a specialist in private consulting rooms, there might be a shorter waiting time but it will probably cost more. Medicare might not give you the full amount back. 
  • Locations: find out where you have to go to see the respiratory physician – for example, a public or private hospital or consulting rooms. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your child’s needs.

You might want to talk about these things and any other questions you have with your GP before you go to the respiratory physician. You could also ask the respiratory physician’s clinic when you make the appointment.