Babies and young children typically see their pediatrician or family doctor regularly, starting a few days after birth. Well-child visits allow providers to monitor growth and development, ensure immunizations are up to date and get to know new patients and their families.
Once children settle into the school-age years, however, well-child visits decrease dramatically. Generally healthy children may visit their providers when they have a head cold or need a sports physical, but they often no longer experience thorough, consistent care from providers who know them.
According to Brooks Michael, a Carilion adolescent health educator, even healthy kids need regular preventive health care, especially as they enter adolescence. Connecting yearly with teens allows health care providers to track changes in physical, mental and social development, which happen at a rapid pace during the teen years.
What to Expect
An adolescent well-care visit may include immunizations and screening for adult health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.
Nurse Practitioner Dana Abney, W.H.N.P.-B.C., of Carilion Clinic Adolescent Medicine, discusses a typical adolescent checkup in this video and recommends that providers engage teens on a variety of subjects.
"During the physical exam, health care providers should be asking adolescents all sorts of questions about their life." said Abney. "This includes their school life, home life, friends, sports activities and sleeping habits, along with gathering a thorough health history, surgical history and family history."
An exam will also include looking in the ears, mouth, nose and eyes; listening to heart sounds and breathing; and examining muscles and joints.
Most importantly, it will include conversation. Many teens have questions and concerns that they do not feel comfortable discussing in front of their parents or guardians. A trusted health care provider can be a valuable resource for advice and information.
“Teens who have a relationship with their provider are more likely to respond openly when their doctor asks, ‘how are you doing, what's going on with you?’ ” said Michael.
Adolescents are at higher risk for preventable health concerns, including such risk-taking behaviors as:
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol consumption
- Eating disorders
- Unsafe sexual activity
Well-care visits provide a chance for providers to discuss those sensitive subjects with teens, as well as promote positive habits, such as:
- Healthy food choices
- Regular exercise
- Good oral hygiene
- Healthy sleep habits
- Managing stress
“Behaviors that develop during adolescence influence lifelong health habits and decision-making,” said Michael.
The more adolescents understand about their physical growth and sexual development, the more they will recognize the importance of active involvement in their own health care. Navigating through the teen years can be challenging and surrounding this age group with providers they know and trust can help guide adolescents more smoothly into adulthood.