Well-Child Visits Linked To Flu-Like Illnesses In Children, Costing More Than $490 Million Each Year [Video]

Well-child visits are appointments with a doctor, usually a pediatrician, to monitor development and health and to administer vaccines to healthy children. Well-child visits do not include trips to the doctor for illnesses, but research has linked well-child visits to subsequent illnesses. One study said that there is a statistical increase in flu-like illnesses in children and their family members within two weeks of well-child visits.

The study linking well-child visits to an increase in flu-like illnesses was published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, which is the official journal of the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America. The research has made its way back into social media newsfeeds this month.

The research found that the increase was so significant that well-child visits end up costing an additional $490 million every year. Dr. Phil Polgreen, the lead author of the study, said that the increased risk adds up to well over 700 thousand illnesses every year that may be avoidable. Of course, the researcher and medical doctor did not state that well-child visits should be avoided, but did call for changes within doctors’ offices, as quoted in Science Daily.

“Well child visits are critically important. However, our results demonstrate that healthcare professionals should devote more attention to reducing the risk of spreading infections in waiting rooms and clinics. Infection control guidelines currently exist. To increase patient safety in outpatient settings, more attention should be paid to these guidelines by healthcare professionals, patients, and their families.”

Polgreen and his team of researchers at the University of Iowa examined healthcare trends from 1996-2008 by examining data from over 84,000 families in a data base from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. The team did adjust for variables such as insurance status, the presence of siblings within the household, and other demographics, but after the variable factors were controlled, they still found that within two weeks of well-child visits involving children under six-years-old increased the risks of transmission of these illnesses.

Dr. Lisa Saiman added that the assumed costs of these illnesses following well-child visits is actually much greater because most illnesses do not result in subsequent visits to the doctor or hospital, but children are still probably getting sick. She added that these unreported illnesses also cost Americans in missed work and missed school. Additionally, she extended another negative outcome of the illnesses that may have resulted from well-child visits. She pointed out that when medical treatment is sought out for these additional illnesses, healthcare workers see an increase, albeit inappropriate, use of antibiotic prescriptions written for these flu-like illnesses.

According to the National Institute of Health, well-child visits often include a complete physical examination, including evaluating and recording height, weight, hearing, vision, and vaccination. These visits are considered crucial for preventative care. The CDC adds that well-child visits are also a time for doctors to screen for developmental disabilities like fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, and other cognitive impairments. Some claim that well-child visits are inadequate to spot developmental disabilities though.

Pediatricians recommend that well-child visits be scheduled at two to five days, one month, two months, four months, six months, nine months, 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, 24 months, 30 months, three years and once a year for every year after the third year of a child’s life.

Earlier research was also discussed in the article about well-child visit risks.

“Exposures to some diseases in ambulatory clinics are easier to diagnose on the basis of ease of transmission, clinical presentation, and how common the infections are in general. For example, during some outbreaks in the United States, a substantial percentage of measles cases were linked to exposures in ambulatory care environments.11,12 Transmission of tuberculosis has also been linked to exposures in pediatric clinics.13,14

According to the authors, doctors should consider scheduling well-child visits differently, because eliminating these appointments entirely would be an extremely unsafe move given how important well-child visits are.

“Well-child visits are often based on patients’ birthdays as a convenient way to ensure complete and timely vaccinations. It may be possible that changing scheduling by a few weeks on the basis of local influenza patterns may decrease exposures and secondary illnesses for both children attending well-child visits and their family members. An alternative would be to decrease the number of well-child visits scheduled during the peak ‘influenza season.'”

[Photo via Pixabay]