Back-to-School Appointments: Why You Should Prioritize Checkups During the Pandemic

 
The back-to-school season is ordinarily a source of stress for many families. But this year, as parents are having to make tough decisions about how and where their children will be educated during a global health crisis, it's no wonder that there's even more of a mad rush to get everything ready. You might be worried about how your child will wear a face mask for hours-on-end or how they'll continue to adjust to the challenges of fully remote learning, which means you're certainly concerned about their health and well-being. To that end, it's important to still schedule those important medical checkups -- even if your kiddo won't be returning to the physical classroom quite yet.


Many healthcare professionals are worried about the trend they're seeing with back-to-school physicals. In an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, some parents have done everything possible to avoid bringing their children to doctors' offices during the pandemic. While the instinct might be coming from a good place, the result is nothing short of startling. One pediatric practice in Michigan reported that visits declined by roughly 60% almost overnight, with parents citing the fear of coronavirus exposure for canceled or delayed appointments. In Baldwinsville, New York, the Upstate Pediatric and Adolescent Center and Upstate Pediatrics experienced appointment drops of 52% to 70% between mid-March and mid-April, with pediatric practice visits down overall by 40%. And according to a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are now missing between 70% and 80% of their scheduled pediatric appointments due to these concerns.


This is a major problem for a few different reasons, explain healthcare leaders. Neglecting to make and keep those yearly appointments may mean many children will go unvaccinated. Although there's currently no vaccine available for COVID-19, other diseases like influenza require regular shots to protect individual kids and to maintain herd immunity. Without those immunizations, vulnerable groups of schoolchildren could be an even bigger target for disease transmission. What's more, delaying these kinds of medical visits can make it harder for children to receive the physical and mental care they need during an important time in their development.


It's not just pediatric visits, either. People of all ages should obtain regular dental health checkups every six months, but many kids have gone well past that point due to the pandemic. Although going to the dentist might not be your child's favorite activity even under ideal circumstances, failing to schedule those visits can have major consequences. As it is, more than 40% of kids have dental cavities by the time they reach kindergarten. Unaddressed cavities can easily lead to pain and infection, which can result in even more serious (and expensive) health issues. Last year, more than two in five U.S. parents had to deal with an unplanned oral health issue for their kids, which caused 28% of children to miss school. Tooth pain also has a correlation to poor academic performance; in fact, one study found that kids with dental-related discomfort were four times more likely to have GPAs below the median of 2.8. At a time when school is already a source of stress, most parents would do anything to make sure there's no further disruption to their child's education. Ultimately, one of the best things you can do there is to schedule your child's next dental check-up as soon as possible. Even if they don't have any cavities, these appointments can ensure their oral health is on track -- which can promote overall wellness.


Having impeccable dental health is important, but so is your child's vision. Whether your child is looking at a whiteboard in a classroom or a screen in the living room, their eyes need to be in tip-top shape, too. Back-to-school eye exams are easily forgotten, as is evidenced by the CDC's claim that only 63.5% of kids between the ages of three and five had ever had their vision checked by a doctor or other health professional during the 2016-17 school year. Although cataracts impact more than 24.4 million American adults over the age of 40, eye-related issues can easily affect children and teens. Everything from nearsightedness to eyestrain from technology can be a factor for your kids -- and having their vision professionally examined is one of the best ways to preserve what they have. Frighteningly, children who have untreated eye problems can experience serious or irreversible vision loss if these problems go undetected and unaddressed. So while having your child read the eye chart might not seem like a huge deal in the midst of a pandemic, it's within their best interests to schedule an exam.


Although some eye exams can be performed virtually, keep in mind that your doctor's office is one of the safer places to be. Doctors' offices tend to be stringent in their regulations and take steps to ensure the safety of all patients, which is more than can be said for many other businesses right now. While it's understandable that you're hesitant to take an unnecessary risk for the sake of your family's health, it's important to note that these wellness visits serve the very purpose of protecting your kids. As long as proper precautions are followed, it's typically a good idea to stop putting off those examinations and take care of these exams during the back-to-school season.



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