As a family practice provider, I often get inquiries about recommendations for how long to continue ‘Wellness’ visits beyond the first several years of life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, wellness visits begin within the first week of birth (typically within 3-5 days of delivery), and again at 1 month of age, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, 24 months (2 year), 2 ½ year (30 months), 3 years of age, and so on annually, until age 21.
Well child visits are important for many reasons. They allow not only the parents or child to ask questions or address any new or ongoing concerns, but also for the provider to assess the child’s growth and vital signs, and determine if appropriate developmental milestones are being met. They allow for the discussion of anticipatory guidance and review the need for additional screenings to be performed such as routine vision and dental exams. Wellness visits can bring early attention to any concerns, whether physical or developmental, and allow for appropriate intervention and close follow-up as indicated.
Wellness visits will allow for the discussion of scheduled immunizations, which can be administered for prevention of illnesses, as well as the discussion of topics such as home safety and concerns at school/daycare. Regularly scheduled wellness visits create strong, trustworthy relationships between not only the young patients and their provider, but also among the parents and provider. It allows children at an early age to become comfortable with their healthcare providers which can develop optimal physical, mental, and social health that can carry over into adolescence and early adulthood, making patients more comfortable to see their provider with any concerns.
Many families question the need for annual wellness exams beyond the age of 5 or 6, as they feel their child has received most initial scheduled vaccines, and that they will be adequately screened once they enter elementary school. However, continued annual exams can ensure other appropriate screening tools set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics are implemented to assess for any concerns. This may include oral health, and recommendations for vision screening in early years as well as screening for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, and safe sex practices or even screening for sexually transmitted diseases as the child reaches adolescence. Continued annual screenings can allow for conversations among healthcare providers and families to discuss tobacco, alcohol, or other drug use, psychosocial/behavioral concerns, and conduct thorough depression screenings.
The continuity of regular wellness exams is invaluable, as it also helps to build a thorough medical history and gives the provider awareness of the child’s progress and development over time. This will also help seek out emerging concerns, as well as stay current on any recent illnesses or injuries, which may be vital to other aspects of the child’s life, such as ensuring medical clearance for participation in sports or other extra-curricular activities/organizations.
A good way to remember your child’s wellness exam is to schedule at the end of the summer, or for ‘Back to School.” Finding a consistent time within the year to see your child’s healthcare provider can ensure a thorough annual review of health and physical exam to be performed, keeping your child on track from his/her early years of rapid development and change through adolescence and early adulthood, paving the way to continued health maintenance throughout their life. And remember, it is never to late to get back on track or begin wellness visits at any age!