Monday Medical: Sports physicals no substitute for wellness exams

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As parents race against the calendar to get their children ready for school, an annual trip to the doctor’s office is on many agendas.

When it comes to kids, there is no place like home — specifically, a “medical home” with a physician or provider who follows a child’s health throughout time and keeps all health care records.

Steamboat Springs family medicine physicians and pediatricians strongly recommend an annual wellness exam, which is 100 percent covered by insurance and includes all the components of a “sports physical.”

“Physician consensus in our community is that a brief sports or pre-participation physical to help rule out cardiac disease in athletes is of little utility and is in no way a replacement for a regular checkup,” said Dr. David Niedermeier, of Steamboat Medical Group.

“An annual wellness visit or physical, on the other hand, is an invaluable tool to address multiple issues faced by our adolescents, including asthma, allergies, acne, social concerns, substance abuse, birth control, depression, anxiety, immunizations and puberty,” he said.

“We also firmly believe in the value of a medical home for complete primary care with a physician who knows the patient and their family through time rather than fragmented care with multiple providers.”

Dr. Dana Fitzgerald, of Pediatrics of Steamboat Springs, who is fellowship-trained in pediatric sports medicine, agrees.

“A yearly, comprehensive medical exam for teenagers allows us to have open conversations and to dispense medically accurate information that empowers them to make smart decisions regarding their health and safety,” she said.

When exams occur in the medical home, Fitzgerald said, physicians take a holistic view of a youth’s health instead of just checking for an obvious medical risk involved in playing a particular sport.

“In mass sports physicals, there is no time to discuss healthy diet and sleep habits, sex, drug use, violence, depression, drunk driving or any of the other challenges all teenagers come into contact with at some point,” she added.

“Details of medical history, number of concussions and immunization status are often overlooked when an athlete is just getting a sports physical."

“The whole reason we went into primary care is because we believe in continuity of care,” said Dr. Rosanne Iversen, of Steamboat Springs Family Medicine.

“A sports physical is just a small part of a comprehensive wellness evaluation. We chart growth and screen for social development, childhood obesity and other health risks,” she said.

“Children change so much within a year. Whether they are heading off to college, middle school or high school, this is the only chance we have to talk to them about important health issues.”

Dr. Steven Ross, of Sleeping Bear Pediatrics, said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual visit within a medical home until children reach 21 years old.

“Sadly, the reality according to the journal 'Pediatrics' is that ‘only 38 percent of adolescents received a preventive visit in the past year, despite broad professional consensus recommending an annual preventive visit for adolescents,’” he said. “We need to do a better job protecting our young here in the Yampa Valley.”

The best way for physicians to show their support of young athletes, Dr. Ron Famiglietti said, is to provide comprehensive exams. Local doctors offices will complete the paperwork for a sports physical at no extra charge if the athlete has had a wellness exam within the past year.

Additionally, Dr. Michelle Jimerson, of Yampa Valley Medical Associates, said a doctor can be a trusted adult role model.

“Kids should be counseled about safety habits, and they are often more receptive to this teaching when it comes from a physician rather than a parent,” she said. “We take them seriously, and they know that someone cares for them and is looking out for them.

“We urge everyone to come in annually for a preventive care visit, which is free through insurance,” she said. “If your child does not have insurance, please contact your doctor for help getting the coverage your child needs and deserves.”

Christine McKelvie is a writer/editor for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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