If you’re the parent of a young athlete, you’re likely familiar with sports physicals. You’ve seen the ads for them: short wait times, no appointment needed, open seven days a week. But are these quick medical check-ups the best way to monitor your child’s health? Not at all.
Sports physicals should be part of routine preventive care done by your child’s primary care provider. Here’s why:
- Better care. Physicals performed during part of a yearly well care visit are more comprehensive than rushed clinic visits.
- Better cost. Usually well care visits are fully covered by insurance at your pediatrician’s office. Why pay for a separate visit to a clinic?
- Better access. Physicals are good for one year — or one year plus 30 days — from the date of a well care visit. If your child has already had a checkup within the past year, it’s likely a separate sports clinic visit isn’t needed at all. You’ll just need to fill out the paperwork, have it signed by the doctor, and turn it in to your child’s coach.
Sports physicals, also called pre-participation physicals, were developed by physicians and put in place to detect serious conditions and injuries before young athletes start playing a sport. They are typically needed for student athletes in grades 7-12, and they are required by all schools in Ohio and Kentucky.
Here are the top things you need to know regarding sports physicals and annual well care visits for your child:
- Continuity of care is important. Your child has a continuous relationship with his or her primary care provider. When a physician knows your child’s health history, habits, and personality, he or she can more easily recognize signs that might signal a change in your child’s health.
- A well care visit covers so much more. When your child’s pediatrician performs a routine preventive well care visit, it encompasses screening for behavioral and mental health problems; learning difficulties; tobacco, alcohol, and substance use; social problems; and sexual activity. Pediatricians also monitor growth and development, conduct a comprehensive physical examination, address previous and current medical problems, update immunizations, perform recommended screening tests, and give anticipatory guidance. These are all critical pieces of a child’s full health history.
- Clinic visits are often cursory. Some schools and coaches recommend sports physicals at a clinic in a school gym or at a retail-based health center. This type of exam is often performed without the child’s complete medical history and often without a parent. The preventive care issues mentioned above are rarely addressed. There is little to no communication back to the primary care doctor. In short, this exam doesn’t address the whole scope of your child’s health.
As a pediatrician, I encourage physical activity for all children. I believe that playing sports fosters physical fitness, improves self-esteem, and promotes teamwork. Pediatricians also believe that children deserve quality health care. Do not allow anyone else — schools and coaches included — to pressure you into the notion that speed is more important than quality when it comes to your child’s health.
Sports physicals don’t have to be difficult. Use these tips to make them easier for your family:
- Prep ahead. Check with your child’s primary care provider to see if they have extended hours on certain evenings or weekends. Many of them offer this, especially during the summer months before fall sports start.
- Know the rules. Both Ohio and Kentucky require a sports physical form to be on file with the school before the first practice. But physical exams are valid for one year or one year plus 30 days — so a well care visit in March will cover a child’s fall sports physical exam requirement. Bylaws with complete rules can be found here:
- Ask for help. Most pediatricians are willing to work with you on scheduling an appointment if you’re in a rush to get the pre-participation form filled out prior to your child’s first practice.
When you ensure your child continues to have annual well care check-ups throughout their teen years, you’re doing more than just fulfilling their sports physical requirement. You’re also helping to develop a healthy habit that will hopefully last a lifetime.
If you need help finding a pediatrician, contact us at 513-636-4200.
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