A well-child exam is a physical and medical assessment of a child that is usually performed by pediatricians, general practitioners, doctors of osteopathy, or nurse practitioners. These exams are scheduled frequently during the first year of life, and then generally after a child turns two, he or she has one once a year. Many things occur during a well-child exam, and here is a brief list of some things parents can expect at one:
Essentially, the well-child exam is a form of preventative medicine, meant to catch any potential problems in a child’s physical or developmental health. It also gives parents an opportunity to ask any questions regarding any physical or developmental changes they have noted in their child. Each exam is usually tailored to the individual child and to the child’s age. For instance, doctors might make sure that parents are safety-proofing homes for active toddlers, and warn them about the dangers of accidental ingestion of dangerous substances.
Another important aspect of these examinations is making sure that children stay current on vaccinations. Though there are some parents who refuse these vaccinations, most physicians feel that these are important in order to prevent contraction of very dangerous and life-threatening diseases like polio. Vaccinations are usually given at specific ages when they are thought most efficacious, and children might also have preventative tests to rule out things like exposure to tuberculosis. Some schools, especially at kindergarten admission, require proof of these vaccinations or ask parents to sign waivers if they choose not to vaccinate their kids.
Equally valuable is determining if children are growing appropriately and reaching certain developmental milestones. While each child is different, children who are not progressing in a number of areas may require special support or help in order to catch up with peers, or failure to meet milestones could suggest serious illness. Usually lack of one or two developmental milestones is not of great concern, but if at a certain point, a child is not reaching most of them, this can suggest significant needs.
Doctors also act in a supervisory role during a well-child exam to make certain that children are having basic needs met. Physicians usually ask questions about behavior, diet, home safety, and they may comment on any examination results that might suggest potential problems for the child. For instance, with great concern about childhood obesity, a child with a high weight and low height might be scrutinized more carefully, and a physician could give advice on modifying diet, or order additional tests to rule out things like childhood diabetes.
As a child grows, the well-child exam can begin to include education for the child. Some doctors even ask parents to step out of the room when they’re examining teens to question them regarding potential drug use and any sexual behavior, though this isn’t true of every exam. However, for each age, doctors attempt to cover the major pitfalls and health issues, so that a child (or parent) gets the best preventative advice and medical care until the next exam.
Especially in early years, parents may spend a lot more time at the doctor than just during well-child exam visits. Kids gets colds, flus, bronchitis and infections, which may necessitate many visits. One question parents may ask is whether a sick child should attend a well-child exam. This may be up to the discretion of the treating physician.
Some doctors may still want to see the child for the exam but might delay things like giving routine vaccinations until a child is feeling better. A child that is really feeling unwell may not be able to fully participate in an exam, and might skew results, especially of things like vision tests or developmental tests. Many parents find it works better to reschedule these exams for when a child is fully healthy.