What is a Well Child Visit? - Schedule & Importance

Instructor: Rachel Torrens
Remember your annual school physical? Well, in this lesson, we'll explore why that examination was so crucial. The scheduling of, components of, and purpose for well child visits will be detailed.

What is a Well Child Visit?

'My child is perfectly healthy, so I'll make a doctor's appointment!' Sounds like the opening to a bad joke, but in reality this is what parents across the nation do on a routine basis. Why would parents take a child for a check-up when the child displays no signs of illness?

A routine examination of a child without signs of illness is known as a well child visit. It can also be called a well child exam, well child check or, in later years, an annual physical. Let's look more closely at when these visits happen, what they involve and why they're so important.

Scheduling and Common Components of a Well Child Visit

Scheduling of WCCs (well child checks) may differ slightly between pediatric offices, but most often infants are seen at 1-2 weeks of age, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 15 months and 18 months. WCCs occur more frequently during infancy because it's a time of rapid growth and development. After the age of 2, WCCs become an annual affair until reaching adulthood.

Again, since each provider has a unique approach, the components of the exam may vary slightly, but common elements include:

  • height, weight and body mass index
  • hearing and vision screenings  
  • developmental milestone assessment
  • vital signs
  • full physical examination

During a WCC, the child's height, weight and body mass index (BMI), a height-to-weight ratio used to assess obesity, are obtained. These measurements are plotted on a clinical growth chart, specific to age and gender, provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Clinical growth chart for boys aged 0-36 months
Clinical growth chart

It's typical for both hearing and vision to be assessed as well. The provider will also evaluate for developmental milestones, or important physical and emotional abilities that should be seen by a specific age range, using either a written questionnaire or by talking with the parent.  

Finally, the child's vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure, will be taken and a complete physical will be performed. Basically, the child is evaluated from head to toe, and everywhere in between! If the provider notices anything outside the normal ranges, she may choose to re-evaluate at a later date, investigate further or refer to a specialist.

The Importance of Well Child Visits

WCCs are essential because during these exams, practitioners are on high-alert for anything out of the normal. Are growth and developmental milestones on track? Is vision and hearing normal? Does the blood pressure fall within normal limits? The practitioner has the freedom to focus solely on what is normal, whereas, during a sick visit the practitioner is attempting to diagnose and solve a problem.

The main purposes of the well child visit are early intervention and prevention.

Early Intervention

It's really important to catch a delay early so that proper interventions may be started and complications prevented. The sooner a deviation from the normal is noted, the sooner the child can receive the necessary care. For example, these are some conditions that may be revealed through a WCC:

  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Developmental delays
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Scoliosis

Prevention

WCCs are also extremely important because they provide an opportunity for preventative care to be given to the child. Preventative care is any treatment aimed at preventing future health problems. This includes:

  1. Vaccinations
  2. Dental varnish
  3. Provider, parent and patient education

Vaccinations

A vaccine is a product that triggers a person's white blood cells to make antibodies for a particular invader, whether it be bacteria or viruses.

So during infancy and childhood, kids receive multiple vaccinations to immunize them against many serious illnesses. The standard schedule for children under 6 years of age, includes vaccinations that protect against:

  • Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (Tdap)
  • Polio (IPV)
  • Rotavirus
  • Pneumococcal infection
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib)
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)
  • Varicella

This girl is being given the vaccine against polio, which is orally administered.
Oral polio vaccine

At the age of 4 or 5 years, children receive 'booster shots' to strengthen immunity gained through infant vaccinations, usually Tdap and MMR.

During the pre-teen to teenage years, several new vaccinations may be given to protect against the following illnesses:

  • Meningococcal infections
  • Human papillomavirus

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