Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Why Does A Healthy Child Need To See Doctor Every Year?
Madison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.
Dr. Gerhart: I bring my child in once per year for her physical, but she is healthy and doing fine. Why do I have to bring her every year if she doesn't need shots?
Dear Reader: There are many reasons for a child to see a health care provider. Your child is changing every minute - developing strong bones, a healthy heart and as many as 700 new neural connections (brain connections) per second! And while we agree that many children are healthy and "doing fine," we would like to give them the best opportunity to succeed physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively. Checking in with a provider once per year allows us to partner with you to encourage healthy development of your child.
As providers, we don't look at the visit as only a "physical exam." We view it as an opportunity to discuss any health concerns and promote future wellness. At my clinic we participate in a program called "Reach Out and Read." With this program, every child age 6 months to 5 years is given a new book to keep. I walk in to each "well-child check" with a new book in hand and give it to the child. I then discuss the importance of reading and encourage families to share books together.
Often, the child will want to be read to in the office, or will want to read to me. This helps me to evaluate the child's language development, motor development and social interactions. I learned this tactic from Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a UW pediatrician who has his master's degree in library and information sciences.
After discussing any specific health concerns, medications, allergies and history, I then focus on more objective data such as a child's height, weight, vision, eating and exercising habits. I discuss the child's growth curve and encourage healthy food choices and fitness.
You might say, "But I already know that stuff." That's true, you probably do, but children are not adults, and helping them to understand or to do things that are healthy can be very difficult. We want to help you. Plus, each child is different, and since we see hundreds of children each year, we might pick up on something subtle.
Finally, the "after" part. After the exam, in addition to discussing vaccinations, I always ask the parents how they are doing. Raising a child can be both joyful and stressful. Often, the first step in taking care of your child is taking care of yourself.
Health care professionals aren't the only ones who want you and your child to be healthy. Schools across the country are focusing on health and wellness - especially this month because March is National Nutrition Month. Also, since March 2 was national "Read Across America" day in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, some preschools and grade schools had reading events.
My own clinic in DeForest-Windsor is hosting a community health event over spring break called "Kids' Days." In our lobby, we will have three stations: nutrition, exercise and reading. This event is going on March 27 and again on April 5. It's open to the public.
So while I am very happy to hear your daughter is healthy and doing well, I also encourage you to bring her in to a health care provider. You might be encouraged or even surprised by what you learn about her health and your own.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.
Date Published: 03/27/2012