A new national survey suggests that while most parents and caregivers stay on top of their schedule of regular child health visits, they may not always get the most out of them.
Most parents report their children have visited well in the past two years and two-thirds say they always see the same provider, according to the CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Survey of Children’s Health at the University of Michigan Health. However, fewer parents took all of the recommended steps to prepare themselves and their children early.
Regular quality visits mean guaranteed face-time with your child’s doctor and a chance not only to discuss specific concerns and questions about your child’s health but to get their advice on general health topics like nutrition, sleep and behaviour.”
Sarah Clark, MPH, co-director of the Mott Poll
“We are pleased to see that the majority of parents regularly make these appointments and maintain relationships with a trusted caregiver. But they may not always take a proactive approach to ensuring that all relevant health issues affecting their children’s physical, emotional and behavioral health are addressed at each visit.”
Before good visits, a quarter of parents say they often prepare a list of questions to ask the provider, while just over half said they sometimes write things down, and about a fifth said they never do.
Meanwhile, about a fifth of parents say they often write down information about their child’s health changes, half say they take this step sometimes, and three in 10 don’t do it at all.
“Good visits are busy, and right now, it’s easy for parents to forget to bring up questions or concerns with the doctor,” Clark said. “Writing it out ahead of time will help prioritize topics and help you get the most out of the appointment.”
Less than 15% of parents say they often look for information online to discuss with their provider, while half do so sometimes and 38% never.
“We are constantly learning new information that may affect children’s health and some recommendations may evolve or be updated,” Clark said. “Many pediatricians and caregivers will bring up these topics themselves but not always. It is always helpful for parents to do some homework ahead of time to ensure they are aware of any topics in a timely manner that affect their children’s age group.”
Preparing the children for the visit
Two in five parents say they often take steps to prepare their children for a good upcoming visit by addressing any concerns they may have while slightly more do sometimes and less than one in five never. Often a quarter of parents also offer rewards for cooperation while less than half sometimes use such incentives.
For parents of children ages 6 to 12, more than one in five children regularly ask the child to think of questions for a service provider.
“As children approach puberty, their bodies begin to change. A quality visit is a great opportunity to have the provider explain why these changes are happening,” Clark said.
“Getting children to think about health topics on their own is also a good practice as they get older and parents become less involved in health visits. Preparing for this transition early will benefit them when they need more control over their health.”
Most parents also remember to complete questionnaires and checklists about their children on good visits. Among these parents, the majority say they understand the purpose, but only three-quarters say they receive feedback about their children’s performance.
“Children and their families receive questionnaires often at visits to help identify issues such as sleep problems, challenges affecting emotional health, and behavioral health concerns,” Clark said. “But when time is short, this may not be apparent during the actual visit. It is important that parents have conversations with providers about any issues that may arise from the child’s or family’s reactions.”
See providers familiar with your child’s history
Nearly half of parents say they plan quality visits with their child’s regular caregiver even if they have a long wait for the appointment. A third of parents also strongly agree that their child is more likely to follow advice if it comes from a provider their child knows well.
For their child’s most recent wellness visit, more than half of the parents also rated the provider as excellent for knowing the child’s health history, answering all their questions and making realistic recommendations for the family.
Clark says a primary care physician who is knowledgeable about a child and his or her specific health history will help them stay healthy, prevent illness and disease by identifying risk factors and taking the right steps to manage chronic disease care.
“We know that continuity with the same provider has long-term health benefits for children. Surveyed parents whose child always sees the same provider for good visits are also more likely to rate the provider as excellent,” Clark said.
“Nurturing a relationship with a primary care provider means that the health professional who knows your child best is the one who provides individualized care and helps your family make important decisions that affect their health.”
However, when quality visits are scheduled with a different caregiver, either by choice or necessity, “parents may benefit from different interpretations or perspectives about their child’s health,” Clark adds.
The nationally representative report is based on responses from 1,331 parents with children ages 1-12 who were surveyed in August and September 2022.
Five ways to ensure baby’s most productive visit, according to Mott’s experts:
- Build a trusted, long-term relationship with the same primary care provider your child always sees at appointments, which may include a pediatrician, other family doctor, or nurse practitioner.
- Write down questions about your child’s physical, emotional, and behavioral health in the same place they come for a revision when it’s well time for the child’s visit.
- Share input from teachers or day care providers about the child’s behavior or school performance and ask the primary care provider about the need for further evaluation or treatment.
- Preparing the children for the visit. If there is a physical exam, talk to them about what to expect. For young children who need immunizations or blood drawn, prepare them with books in advance, and think of comforting situations and distractions like cartoons on screens during a shoot or give them something fun to look forward to after the visit like ice cream. Never promise them they won’t get a chance.
- For older children, help them come up with a list of questions to ask the doctor themselves.