IDEAS: Prioritizing ongoing and early interventions and well-child visits

Well-child visits are an essential tool to promote children’s health.

I am concerned that the issue of the overall health and well-being of our children is being overlooked.

I am a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General responsible for the Ohio National Guard MASH unit, Mission: Readiness member, and doctor of internal medicine. I remain actively involved in serving my community working with Caring Partners, a medical relief organization located in Franklin that serves Dayton and Cincinnati.

While there is an understandable amount of focus on COVID, there are many other diseases that need to be diagnosed and treated. A lot of diseases and conditions can become hazardous for children, their long-term health, and the greater community if they aren’t diagnosed at a young age.

Although children aren’t typically directly affected by COVID-19, many aspects of their lives have been disrupted, including medical care. Vaccination rates in Ohio are down as much as 50 percent as parents postponed regularly scheduled immunizations for their children out of fear of exposing them to the coronavirus or because of limited appointment availability with their pediatricians.

Well-child visits are an essential tool to promote children’s health. These regularly scheduled check-ups allow medical professionals to track developmental progress, keep children up to date on vaccinations, and identify behavioral and other problems early before they become more serious. These visits can help prevent obesity as well, as, especially in the case of very young children, well-child visits provide opportunities for measuring a child’s growth and for counseling for parents on healthy eating habits.

In particular, getting vaccines is part of a child’s well visits and prevents diseases like measles. These vaccines have saved thousands and thousands of lives. If children aren’t receiving immunizations as scheduled, a significant vaccine gap will occur. This gap jeopardizes not only the unvaccinated child but immunocompromised children and adults who can’t get vaccinated for health reasons. We could see a resurgence of preventable diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, and pertussis which could threaten entire communities.

Beyond my concerns as a physician, well-child visits are important to me as a member of Mission: Readiness. Mission: Readiness is a membership group comprised of retired admirals and generals who champion evidence-based policies that prepare youth for life and to be able to serve our nation in any way they choose, including military service. One of our top-of-mind concerns is that today, 71 percent of American youth ages 17-24 are not eligible for military service due to challenges such as obesity and behavioral problems, which can be screened for and prevented through well-child visits.

There is good news. Children enrolled in CHIP/Medicaid have access to Healthchek, Ohio’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) Program that covers 12 complete medical exams during a child’s first 30 months and then yearly exams going forward. The program includes exams, developmental screenings, and immunizations.

In many instances, negative long-term outcomes for children can be linked to a failure to receive well-child visits. Please ensure children are receiving their regular well-child visits, even during COVID. They are crucial to give our children the safest, healthiest path forward in life and will help open the door to military service for those who choose it.

Dr. Charles O. Dillard, MD, is a retired Brigadier General in the United States Army.

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