THE WELL CHECK VISIT
Why do children need well checkups?
Well Child Checkups start soon after a baby is born and continue until adulthood. While it is easy to see why a baby should be seen frequently to follow length, weight, head size as well as checking off developmental milestones, parents sometimes wonder why checkups are necessary for a well school-age child. If a child is doing well and it not ill, then why is it necessary to see the pediatrician? These questions are easy to understand given that time usually must be taken from the parent’s work, and transportation to and from the clinic must be arranged.
The truth is, for the same reasons why well babies are seen frequently after birth, older children usually need an annual physical. Just like preventive maintenance on a car, the child will be evaluated for potential health problems or developmental issues. These issues may not be apparent on a daily basis to family members.
Or health events (i.e. visits to urgent care or the emergency room) may be occurring at a frequency that may only be realized after taking a interim health history and could indicate an undiagnosed health condition such as asthma or allergies.
Other issues many parents don’t know pediatricians also evaluate for at well child checkups are for learning problems such as dyslexia, ADHD, or trouble with processing verbal or written instructions. A sudden drop in grades at school may indicate one of these issues is present and is not likely to improve by simply telling the child to “work harder,” “focus better,” or “concentrate more.”
For teenagers especially, the visit tends to be more focused on peer relationships and discussions about drugs, alcohol, and smoking. Mental health is also discussed and, oftentimes the teen is allowed time to ask the pediatrician questions with the parents outside of the room. During these one-on-one discussions, teens have asked me about numerous topics, including the side effects of smoking marijuana, spontaneous morning penile erections, health rumors they have heard from their friends, and about the health issues of their friends, just to name a few. Believe it or not, teens are not always comfortable asking their parents these questions because they fear receiving a negative emotional reaction or a long-winded answer instead of a short, matter-of-fact answer.
The Well Child Checkup is an important part to a child’s health, no matter the age. The sooner a health or learning issue is identified, the sooner the appropriate plan can be initiated and the more likely the child will be successful long-term. Finally, it builds the child’s trust in the pediatrician and the entire healthcare field that can last a lifetime. A child who is used to going to the pediatrician for preventive health is more likely to become an adult who seeks out medical care for their own health concerns, before they become bigger issues.