DETROIT – Many parents have avoided taking their children to the doctor during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but pediatricians are concerned about the ripple affect of missing those appointments.
“We saw an extremely steep decline in our patient volumes very, very shortly after this whole pandemic came to be,” said Dr. Katherine Schafer, of Bloom Pediatrics.
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She said the number of office visits has been cut by more than half.
“I think, I believe the date was March 17, declined by nearly 60% nearly overnight, and what we’re hearing from our patients’ parents is they’re afraid to come in,” Schafer said. “They’re afraid to expose their kids to COVID-19. They don’t know what to expect.”
The majority of children aren’t going to the doctor right now because of those concerns. A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates children are missing between 70%-80% of their scheduled pediatric appointments.
“The wellness visit is not just about vaccinations,” Schafer said. “In the younger age groups under the age of 2, that is the primary way in which we vaccinate them, but it’s a unique opportunity for us to assess the whole child and their family.”
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Besides vaccines, experts warn of the possibility of missing out on developmental milestones in younger children and detecting mental health problems for older children and teenagers.
“They’re no longer going to daycare,” Schafer said. “They’re no longer going to preschool. They’re not going to school, and so the other eyes that have been on these kids with regard to their development are also not able to keep track of how things are going, so it really has this sort of domino effect, and it’s concerning.”
The overall message to parents is to be cautious but think carefully before missing those appointments.
“Please do not delay wellness visits out of fear and concern for COVID-19,” Schafer said. “It’s a scary world out there, but there are people who are advocates for their children and for their children’s health, and those are the pediatricians. We don’t want to put any child at risk unnecessarily. But we have the unique charge with making sure that the youngest population in our country is safe and healthy and safe from preventable diseases.”
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention is already warning that there could be an outbreak of preventable diseases since orders for children’s vaccines dropped dramatically over the last several months.