The short answer is yes! The annual school physical is quite important. Most visits to the doctor during the school year are for focused problems, such as a sore throat or injury. The annual physical is a great opportunity to take a comprehensive look at your child’s health.
Perhaps the most important decision you make about the annual school physical is where it takes place. There are many health care outlets that advertise and perform these evaluations quickly and cheaply. While they may be able to fill out a piece of paper and perform a basic exam, is it really what your child needs?
Your child’s primary care physician provides continuity with records of growth, immunizations, medical history and ongoing care. This is indispensable in providing a comprehensive assessment of your child and is impossible to duplicate. So, while there is certainly a time and benefit to taking advantage of urgent care center services, these centers simply cannot provide the level of care that your child’s primary care physician can for annual school physicals.
For example, a child or adolescent’s growth is measured along a standardized growth curve and most follow a pattern that their doctor can immediately analyze based on prior measurements. A new trend in growth alerts your child’s doctor to ask questions regarding nutrition, exercise and other symptoms that might be related to an underlying medical condition.
Another important area is the determination of sports preparedness. Your child’s doctor will assess physical and sexual maturity and help guide you on suitable activities. In recent years, there has been a large increase in sports-related injuries in children. They usually occur because there is a mismatch between the physical maturity of the child and the sport. Many children want to do it all, but they might not be physically mature enough to do so. As a result, overuse injuries have become common and can be debilitating if not handled properly.
The assessment of emotional and behavioral health is as important as the physical elements of the annual physical. Paralleling their physical growth, children, especially adolescents, undergo changes in how they interact with the world around them. By assessing the emotional health and coping skills in conversations with the child as well as the parent, issues can be addressed quickly. Your child’s primary care doctor will have lots of resources available to help address these issues.
So, bottom line, schedule your child’s annual physical now with your trusted doctor. Don’t wait until the last minute and settle for getting a paper filled out by a stranger.
Charles A. Welborn, MD, is the medical director of After Hours Pediatrics Urgent Care, www.afterhourspediatrics.com.