The concept of a well-child visit can seem like a privileged concept. Many families struggle to get to the doctor’s office even when their children are sick. In the United States of America, cost, and a lack of insurance can serve as a considerable barrier to care.
Stir in other features of lower income life — sporadic work hours, unstable access to transportation, and the idea of taking healthy children to the doctor becomes even more distant and remote.
And yet there are important reasons why doctors recommend these appointments as an essential part of healthcare. In this article, we talk about well visits. What they are, why they matter, and how you can make sure your children are taking full advantage of them.
What are Well Visits?
Well-visits are standing appointments to see the doctor at least once a year. For the first year of a child’s life, they happen many times. As children get older, they are usually only recommended once a year. During these appointments, your child’s health, physical, and even mental development are analyzed.
While it may seem like a low priority to take a healthy child to the doctor, there are many reasons that parents should make sure they do it at the recommended schedule.
One of the first and most fundamental aspects of well-visits is that they can be used to catch or monitor developmental delays. Typically at these appointments, doctors will ask about your child’s emotional and mental progress. How do they act at home? At school?
This information can be used to identify attention deficit problems or other behavioral abnormalities that can only be officially diagnosed with a trip to the doctor.
These appointments are also where your child’s height and weight will be monitored. While you can, of course, assess their physical growth with a visual inspection, doctors can provide hard numbers, and contextualize them with more information.
If your child is overweight or inadequately active, a doctor’s appointment might be the first place you hear about it.
These things aggregate into what is called “preventative care.” The child is not currently sick, and because they are having regular interactions with their doctor, they may continue to experience good health well into the future.
Without preventative care, it is easy for small problems to become big ones, even in a child. It’s also worth noting that your child’s vitals will be taken. Heart rate, blood pressure, ears, nose, mouth. Information that simply can’t be collected at home.
Depending on your child’s age, regular trips to the doctor’s office may also be required to ensure that they are up on their vaccines. Until about the age of six, most well-child visits involve one to two vaccines that can help prevent serious illness. Some schools even require full proof of vaccination before a child is allowed to attend. Though these policies are fraught with controversy, they are a proven way to help avoid the spread of sometimes deadly sicknesses.
Even after the age at which most inoculations have been incurred, there are still others that will need to be refreshed every year. For example, Covid and Flu vaccines are recommended on a seasonal basis to avoid infection.
While you can get some of these vaccines offsite, at say, a pharmacy, it is very difficult to track when and what your child is due for without the help of a doctor’s office. Furthermore, your child’s doctor will be able to answer questions and make recovery recommendations that you might not get at a pharmacy.
Premature Detection of Illness
Just because your child is going in for a wellness visit doesn’t mean that they are completely healthy. In fact, asymptomatic distress factors are often caught during wellness visits. Any doctor will be happy to tell you that they’ve caught many an ear infection or strep throat case from kids who reported feeling healthy.
Ok, fine. But how bad could it really be if the sickness is asymptomatic?
Depending on the situation, it can get pretty ugly. Ear infections aren’t a major deal in their own right, but if left untreated they can lead to permanent loss of hearing and potential developmental delays. Strep throat can escalate and spread.
It’s never a good idea to let illness fester, even when the symptoms are mild. It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that your doctor may be able to tell you what to keep an eye out for. For example, some summers have high instances of tick-borne illnesses. Knowing this, your doctor or nurse will be able to help you and your family take preventative action, or recognize the early symptoms of Lyme disease should they arise.
The Cost of Well-Child Visits
Most insured Americans are already paying for well-child visits in the form of their monthly premiums. Even employer-provided insurance is typically deducted from your salary, which means that if you aren’t taking advantage of your health insurance, it’s a little like throwing money down the drain.
The situation for uninsured Americans is a little bit trickier. Well-child visits without the help of insurance can get pricy. Most states have some form of government assistance that may be able to help you access insurance or affordable health care.
Remember: neglecting your healthcare comes with its own costs. An annual well visit may not feel good on the wallet, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of ear tubes, or tonsil removal surgery—the former a common consequence of chronic ear infections, the latter often coming about from regular strep throat.
Well-child visits help to keep your kids healthy and in school, living the childhoods they deserve. Take advantage of whatever resources you can get to make sure your kids receive the routine care that they need.