I’m a pediatrician and a mom with another child on the way, and I have an important message to share with other parents out there: Even though you may be worried about bringing your kids in for their well-child checkup right now, please don’t skip or delay well visits, eye or dental checkups.
Well visits are the best time for health care providers to screen patients for common conditions, administer vaccines, share important health information and get to know their patients and build trust. These appointments help ensure your child is getting the medical care they need so that they can be as healthy as possible.
A message about safety
Since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic became a concern in the U.S., many parents have been worried about bringing their kids into health care facilities and being exposed to other potentially sick patients.
I want to reassure you that at UCLA Health, all of our more than 200 medical clinics and hospitals have rigorous infection prevention policies in place. We prescreen patients, visitors and staff before they enter a medical clinic or hospital by taking everyone’s temperature and asking them questions about possible symptoms and exposure. We require universal masking for everyone over age 2, have visitor restriction policies, follow physical distancing guidelines in all shared spaces and have enhanced disinfection and sterilization procedures in exam rooms and on high-touch surfaces.
In our Calabasas office, we schedule sick visits in the afternoon and book well visits in the morning. If any child is experiencing symptoms that may indicate a coronavirus infection, we start with a video visit to determine if they need a COVID-19 test or an in-person appointment.
Other health care facilities are following similar procedures to help ensure the safety of all patients and families.
The importance of the well-child checkup
So much growth and development happens in the first few years of a child’s life. During this time, it’s important to come in for every well visit so that your child’s pediatrician can examine your child and see if they’re hitting all of their developmental milestones. If I don’t see a young patient regularly, I might miss a speech or gross motor delay, or an important autism screening. When problems in these areas are detected early, intervention and therapy are most effective.
As children get older and only have one well visit per year, parents may have questions about what to expect in the coming year, or how to help them thrive in the current environment. I can give advice on distance learning, mental health and safety when transitioning to a big-kid car seat or learning how to ride a bike. These are important conversations, during which a pediatrician can educate parents and provide insights to help them make informed decisions for their family.
Well visits are also when children get their regular vaccinations. You should never delay a vaccination unless your pediatrician makes this recommendation. Many immunizations, such as the rotavirus vaccine, can only be given in a limited timeframe. If you delay your child’s well visit and their vaccination and miss this window, they will be at an increased risk for contracting a preventable disease with potentially serious complications.
When video visits are appropriate
I’ve had a lot of parents interested in telehealth visits during this public health crisis. While there is no substitution for an in-person exam, there is certainly a time and place when video visits are appropriate.
As I mentioned, if a child is sick or experiencing symptoms that might indicate a coronavirus infection, we always start with a video visit. This is a great way to gather some more information and determine the best step moving forward. We can also convert a video visit into an in-person appointment.
Video visits are also great for medication management. Whether your child recently started a medication for anxiety or acne, their primary doctor may be able to check in a few weeks later to see how they’re doing, see whether they have any side effects and determine if any adjustments are necessary.
If a parent has a question about newborn behavior or their child’s development, a video visit may also be a great first option.
However, you really need to come in for all newborn appointments, well-child exams and routine vaccinations. You should also come into the office if you have an urgent concern about anything from belly pain to a possible broken bone.
Parents: Remember to take care of yourselves
I’m a pediatrician, which means that I only care for children. However, I know that it’s also important for parents to take care of themselves, which includes seeing their primary care physician every year for an annual physical exam or well visit.
Adults may even have more preventive items to complete each year than kids do. At an annual physical, your doctor will likely want to measure your blood pressure and check labs for cholesterol levels and hemoglobin A1C, which can indicate prediabetes or diabetes. They’ll also schedule important screenings for breast and colon cancer, and ask questions about your lifestyle, such as what you eat and how much you exercise. With this information, they can help you develop a personalized plan to optimize your health.
Remember: For both children and adults, it’s best to see your doctor regularly so they can detect anything that may need to be addressed early with lifestyle changes, medication or therapy. This is the best way to avoid long-term complications.
Your primary doctor is your partner in health
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s especially important for every member of your family to have a primary care physician that you trust. A primary care physician is really the leader of each person’s health care team, and the best person to coordinate your or your child’s care with specialists and other health care providers.
The goal of any primary care doctor is to keep their patients as healthy as possible by providing comprehensive and coordinated care. Reach out to your child’s primary pediatrician or family physician if you have any questions or concerns. Here’s to a healthy year ahead.
Ashley Gregg, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician who practices in the UCLA Health Calabasas pediatrics office. Learn more at uclahealth.org.