To Your Health: Seize opportunity with back-to-school physicals
By Dr. Roy Bardwell and Dr. William Campbell July 23, 2013 3:54PM
Dr. Roy Bardwell
Updated: August 25, 2013 6:09AM
If your child is entering kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade, or has just transferred from out of state, he will need a school physical.
These mandatory exams are an opportunity for children, parents and physicians to explore the many factors that affect a child’s health.
At school physicals, doctors complete an extensive checklist, including vision and hearing screenings; examinations of the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, genito urinary, neurological and musculoskeletal systems; and a spinal exam. Screenings for potentially life-endangering conditions include TB, lead, diabetes and body mass index.
It is an important tool for identifying and tackling many health issues early on.
In the case of childhood obesity, we can provide counseling to parents and the child regarding exercise and proper diet. Often, parents are unaware that their child should be avoiding high carbohydrate intake, sugary juice boxes and high-calorie snacks.
The role of family history in your child’s health is addressed at the physical.
For example, if there is a family history of diabetes, we can help guide your child to a healthier lifestyle now, when it can make a big difference. It’s important to note that kids today are growing up with a huge sugar load. As a result, we are seeing much more type 2 diabetes sooner than the classical presentation.
Depending upon your doctor, the school physical can include developmental assessment.
More and more physicians are doing a better job of looking at the complete person, rather than just the physical body. Cognitive screenings can indicate if there are learning deficits and facilitate early intervention. Guided by the screening results, a child can be referred to a psychiatrist or learning center that can help them with a particular disability.
On the behavioral side, the doctor may seek to learn if there is discipline in the household, if your child feels comfortable with himself and has good relationships with other children, and whether or not your child is active either in sports or in an after-school activity. It’s an opportunity for you as a parent to be engaged and know what and how your child is doing, within the objective context of a doctor visit. For many parents, these conversations provide reassurance that everything is fine.
For sixth- and ninth-graders, the doctor may use the physical to educate pre-teens, teenagers and their parents on the topic of sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infection prevention. It’s a good time to gather advice and information about these as well as the Gardasil vaccination, which helps prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), a cause of cervical cancer.
One of the most valuable functions of having physicals at these regularly scheduled intervals is that they provide continuity of care. They give the doctor a wealth of background information on your child, enabling him to more quickly assess future issues that may arise.
Because doctors usually only see children when they are sick, these well visits also help to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship. Nurturing this relationship builds a level of trust and comfort, so that when there is something wrong, your child will be more likely to seek medical attention.
The doctor can help your child to establish a health-conscious mindset, with a focus on eating the right foods and exercising.
The new school year is right around the corner, so it’s best not to put off scheduling your child’s physical.
Be sure to bring his immunization records with you so your doctor can verify them on the Certificate of Child Health Examination form.
Make a list of any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to encourage your child to discuss things openly and honestly with the doctor.
Bardwell and Campbell are Franciscan Physician Network family medicine physicians practicing in Homewood. Franciscan St. James Health is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.