The coronavirus pandemic has dominated headlines for months as other important health-related news stories fall on deaf ears. With school canceled across the country, many parents are keeping their kids at home as much as possible until health officials deem it safe to go out in public again. However, this means many parents aren’t taking their children to the pediatrician’s office, which could spell disaster in the months to come, especially as children get ready to head back to school in the fall.
Pediatricians say this is the time of year when many parents should be vaccinating their children and completing routine checkups, but the pandemic is keeping them at home. If you work in a pediatrician’s office, have young children or know someone who does, find out why it’s important to bring kids into the doctor’s office, even in the face of a global pandemic.
Making a Difficult Choice
For many parents with young children, going to the pediatrician’s office in the middle of the outbreak may seem like a recipe for disaster. While children seem to be less vulnerable to COVID-19 than older individuals and those with pre-existing conditions, they could still fall ill if they are exposed to the virus. For about a month, patients have been told to stay home unless they are seriously ill to prevent the spread of the virus, but, as it turns out, that may not apply to children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that parents should still take their children into the pediatrician’s office for routine vaccinations and wellness visits right now. This is especially true of children under the age of two. New parents typically need to bring their children into the doctor’s office every few months during the first two years of life to make sure they are developing properly.
Children also tend to receive vaccinations in the spring, including those for mumps, rubella, whooping cough, meningitis, and measles, which are considered highly contagious. Without these vaccines, many children may fall prey to serious illness once they are free to leave their homes and go back to school. Children could also easily spread new diseases to their friends and classmates without their knowledge.
But what about telehealth?
Many pediatricians are checking in on their patients using remote audio and video, but they can’t perform a full checkup through a screen. In some cases, telehealth may be used as an alternative to in-person care. Pediatricians also can’t deliver a vaccine to the child over the internet. Some services must be performed in person.
Keeping Children Safe During the Pandemic
Pediatricians around the country are doing their best to make sure their young patients are not exposed to the virus during these routine visits. Parents are being told to call ahead if their child has an appointment to make sure it is still on the schedule. The office will likely give them additional instructions in terms of arriving at the facility and checking in for their appointment.
Every facility is responding to the pandemic differently, but many pediatricians will only see non-virus patients in the morning, before treating children who may have been infected in the afternoon. As soon as the patient leaves the room, staff members will wipe down and disinfect everything before the next patient comes into the room, thus reducing their chances of exposure.
Many parents are also being asked to wait outside in their cars until the doctor is ready to see them instead of having them sit in the waiting room. As soon as they are called into the facility, they are escorted right into an open room where their child will be cared for by a nurse and a pediatrician. Everyone will be wearing protective gear to prevent spreading the virus.
Getting the Word Out to Parents
Some parents may be wondering if it’s better to cancel their child’s appointment and hold off until the coronavirus is behind us, but some children may not be able to wait.
According to Sally Goza, President of the AAP, pediatricians are currently only seeing around 20 to 30% of the patients they normally see around this time of year. Some lesser-hit areas, including neighborhoods and communities that have yet to see a wave of coronavirus patients, may not have to worry about a potential measles outbreak, but many parents will likely avoid the pediatricians’ offices in harder-hit areas like New York, California, Ohio and Michigan, which could lead to a cluster of new measles cases down the line.
If you work at a pediatrician’s office, continue reaching out to your patients to make sure they understand why it’s important to bring their children in for regular check-ups. If they do not want to bring their children in for an appointment, try to switch as many services over to telehealth as possible. Talk to them about how your facility is working to protect young patients from possible exposure to the virus.
Some pediatricians may do away with in-person non-virus care all together, despite recommendations from the AAP. If you have young children and the pediatrician’s office refuses to see your child in person, talk to them about whether there are any risks in delaying care and whether you should seek care somewhere else.
At the end of the day, taking a child into the pediatrician’s office may be less of a risk than taking them into the grocery store. If parents continue cancelling appointments and delaying care, we could face another pandemic or outbreak once we the coronavirus is over.
Use these tips to keep parents informed during this uncertain time. Visit the AAP website for more information on how to safely see young patients during the pandemic.