No matter what grade your child is about to enter, there's the yearly back-to-school checklist of to-dos.
While it may not seem as urgent, a yearly physical exam by your family's pediatrician is an important part of your child's health care. The back-to-school season is a convenient time for putting the exam on your family's schedule.
Your Family-Centered Medical Home
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates that every child and youth receive care through a family-centered medical home. Within the medical home, care is provided continuously over a long period of time so that as a child ages and develops, his or her care is never interrupted.
Adolescence, for example, is a time when vital changes are taking place. It is important to have your child see the pediatrician during the transition years from later childhood to puberty.
The annual pediatric exam also offers the doctor time to provide wellness guidance and advice. In addition to monitoring heart and blood pressure and testing for diabetes, pediatricians can use this annual visit with your child to discuss diet, exercise options, pediatric vision screenings, and testing for cholesterol and anemia.
Building a Medical History
The continuity of regular physical exams is invaluable. Having a long-term history with a child or adolescent gives the doctor the awareness of the child's progress and development over time. This helps the doctor detect emerging problems, as well as being informed by the detail of the patient's history, such as important past illnesses or injuries the child may forget to mention on the sports physical questionnaire.
That detail includes immunization records. A school entry form will generally include a check box asking whether all vaccinations are up-to-date, requiring the parents to remember whether or not they are. The family pediatrician will have accurate records to assist you in filling out these forms.
Examining the Young Athlete
The doctor's annual exam of a young athlete should be similar to one for any other child but most pediatricians will also address some sports-specific issues, including injuries, nutrition, training and exercise programs, and even attitudes in the course of the exam.
The other side of the exercise issue is the student athlete who is already involved in an exercise and training program. Overuse and overtraining injuries continue to be huge problems.
The Need for a Thorough Physical Exam (beyond a sports-specific exam)
Back-to-school check-ups, as they are commonly called, are often the only visit most kids and teenagers have with their pediatrician every year. The annual physical gives the pediatrician a chance to give the child a thorough physical exam and address any emotional, developmental, or social concerns. It is also a good chance to address important questions, especially with teenagers, including adolescent issues of drinking, smoking, drugs, sexual activity, and depression.
Children involved in school athletic programs often receive a sports-specific exam through the school. The timeframe for getting this exam should be at least 6 weeks prior to the start of the sport's season. This allows ample time to work up any new health concerns or rehab any lingering injuries before the season starts, without delaying clearance of the athlete. However, school sports physicals alone tend not to address the child's overall health.
Getting the Balance Right
A healthy childhood and adolescence calls for balancing home life, school, social activities, sports, and extracurricular pursuits. This is not easy, especially during a time when the child is passing through the years of growth, learning, exploration, and emotional and physical development. This is all the more reason to set aside one day during each of those years for your child to see the pediatrician.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org: