The pandemic had a direct impact on well-child visits. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported that pediatric visits had dropped as much as 60 percent nationwide in the early phases of the pandemic.
The interruption in ongoing care is a concern. To adapt to the current environment pediatricians, like other providers, have integrated telehealth into their practices. However, some screenings simply require in-person appointments, especially for children.
During well-child visits, providers monitor the overall health of the child, including mental health, chronic conditions (e.g., asthma, allergies, and diabetes), and appropriate development. Vaccinations are also a critical component of well-child visits.
Of particular concern now, is the delay in vaccinations resulting from the reduction in well-child visits and the associated risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses, including measles, whooping cough, and the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine. This year, the flu vaccine is more important than ever. Preventing the flu will not only prevent sickness and the spread of the illness, but it will also reduce the burden on the healthcare system as we continue to require resources to fight coronavirus.
The flu is a risk for children. According to the AAP:
- Children consistently have the highest attack rates of influenza in the community.
- Kids play a pivotal role in the spread of the flu to others in their household and close contacts.
- Children can experience substantial morbidity, including severe or fatal complications from the flu, with children younger than 5 years being at increased risk of hospitalization and complications, and school-aged children being more likely to need medical care as a result of the flu than healthy adults.
The flu vaccine is effective for children.
- A 2020 study published in the AAP Journal, Pediatrics, found that flu vaccinations reduced flu-related emergency department visits by half among children.
- A 2017 CDC study found that the flu vaccine significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from the flu.
The AAP released a statement regarding the flu vaccine for the 2020-2021 season, recommending, concurrent with the CDC, that all children 6 months of age an older (and without medical contraindications) be vaccinated. Here are some recommendations for increasing utilization of well-child visits.
Reach Out to Encourage Well-Child Visits
Pediatricians and/or health plans can identify children who have missed well-child visits and contact them to encourage them to schedule appointments.
Schedule In-Person Visits When Appropriate
Telehealth is an important part of care delivery; however, the AAP recommends that well-child visits should occur in person whenever possible, allowing pediatricians to provide vaccinations and immunizations, in addition to other care.
Reduce Fear and Anxiety
To make parents and guardians comfortable with scheduling in-person appointments, pediatricians can communicate the strategies they are using to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other illnesses within their offices.