It is back-to-school time. If your child plays school sports, they will likely need a sports physical. Many parents may not be aware of the differences between sports physicals and well child exams (also referred to as a yearly/annual physical or yearly/annual exam) and believe they are equivalent, but there are key distinctions. A sports physical does not take the place of a regular checkup. It is designed to clear a student-athlete for participation in sports — and nothing more. A well child exam includes everything required by sports physicals, plus much more. In next week’s blog, we will discuss whether your teenage athlete should get a heart screen in addition to their sports physical.
What is a Sports Physical?
A sports physical differs from an annual physical because it focuses on reviewing your child’s current health status and medical history to ensure that your child is healthy enough to play their sport. Your physician will review any pre-existing injuries and assess your child’s current fitness level to determine that there is no risk for your child to play their sport.
The areas of focus during your child’s sports physical typically include:
- Height and weight
- Vision and hearing
- Heart health
- Blood pressure
- Muscle and bone health, flexibility, and strength
What is a Well Child Exam?
A well child exam is different from a sports physical because it not only focuses on the physical health of your child but the developmental, emotional, and social aspects of your child’s health as well.
Your physician will focus on your child’s overall health by doing a complete physical examination and reviewing your family’s medical history to ensure preventive health measures are in place if necessary. A full assessment of your child’s cognitive and social milestones will be looked at to ensure proper development in those areas. Your physician may also use this time to discuss important topics regarding drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, healthy relationships, and puberty.
Annual visits are also an important way for your medical provider to develop a healthy and trusting relationship with your child. The areas of focus and topics discussed during your child’s annual exam should include those listed above from your child’s sports physical, plus the following:
- Health history
- Lab work, if needed
- Behavioral and developmental screening, if needed
- Nutrition and sleep habits
- Preventive health
- Adolescent issues
Can the Sports Physical and Well Child Exam be Done in the Same Visit?
Yes! Many primary care providers prefer to perform both a sports physical and a well child exam at the same visit. This visit is a covered benefit through most insurance policies.
Health plans often do not cover sports physicals and do not meet quality metrics around annual wellness. Most insurance companies will, however, cover your child’s yearly well child exam. For example, most insurances will cover immunizations if the visit is documented as a well child exam, but not if documented as a sports physical. This, of course, depends on your individual health policy.
For more information, contact your insurance company or primary care provider for complete policy details.
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