I am writing this from my dining room table that I have turned into a makeshift office. I sit at one end doing telehealth visits while my husband, a teacher, sits at the other end creating e-learning lesson plans and interacting with students. My 2nd grader is on the desktop computer upstairs where he will complete his own distance learning assignments. In a few hours his Alexa alarm will go off to remind him that it is time for the Google Meetup with his teacher and his class. My middle schooler is in his room on his Chrome Book. He is dividing his time between FaceTime chats with his friends and preparing for a math quiz later today. My high schooler isn’t even awake yet, but when she is, she will likely be getting ready for the AP tests that she will be taking from home in a few weeks. It took some time, but we are now settled into these new routines, just when things are getting ready to change again.
Here in Missouri, our state-wide stay-at-home order expires today (May 4). Our governor has declared that as long as social distancing and infection control requirements are met, all businesses may reopen. The local leaders of St. Louis County and St. Louis City have elected to extend our stay-at-home orders and reevaluate them in a few weeks. Even though our area will not be seeing any changes for at least two weeks, it is time to start thinking about how we move forward.
New Measures to Keep Your Family Safe
As an essential business, our pediatric office, like most others, has remained open throughout the stay-at-home order. With the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, pediatric offices have put many measures in place to keep our patients and our staff safe. These procedures are constantly reevaluated. We are looking for what is working and what is needed and adapting daily to new needs and expectations. Most of these changes will likely remain in place during the upcoming months. Expect that your next visit to the pediatrician will look very different than what you are used to, but please, don’t put off those scheduled visits.
The Importance of Well-Child Checks
Understandably, many parents are worried about bringing their child to the doctor. We have seen many families choosing to delay well-child checks in particular. Regular physical exams are the cornerstone of pediatric care. These visits are where we ensure that your child is gaining weight and growing as expected. We make sure that your child is meeting developmental milestones and developing correctly without physical anomalies. This is where we perform vision screens and check for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This is where we screen for anxiety and depression. The well-child check is where we provide anticipatory guidance and answer parenting and health questions. Most importantly, this is the time that we give vaccines. Allowing your child to get behind on vaccines during a pandemic is just as dangerous as skipping vaccinations any other time. There is no reason that we can’t see outbreaks of measles, pertussis or meningitis alongside COVID-19. Although many issues can be worked through with telephone or video calls, vaccinations and exams need to be done in the office.
Changes You Might See at Your Pediatrician’s Office
In order to make in-office visits as safe as possible, expect changes in what these visits look like.
- Well-child checks only in the morning. Parents can feel comfortable that when they bring their child to the office, they will not come into contact with other children being evaluated for illness.
- No time in the waiting room. Expect that your child will enter the office and be brought straight back to an exam room.
- Expect your doctor and staff to be wearing extra equipment. Your doctor and nurses will likely be wearing masks and eye protection. They may also be wearing scrubs, lab coats or gowns.
- All procedures performed in the exam room. You and your child will likely remain in the exam room for the entire visit. No moving to other parts of the office for hearing or vision exams or other labs.
- Extra time for handwashing and disinfecting of equipment. You may notice that your doctor washes her hands more often than usual. You will likely also see her cleaning any equipment like stethoscopes and otoscopes before examining your child.
- Expect social distancing. The doctor and staff will maintain a safe distance from you and your child when able.
- Limits to the number of people at a visit. You may be encouraged to leave siblings at home and bring only one child to the appointment.
- Screening procedures. You and your child may undergo screening upon arrival at the office. These screenings typically involve questions about sick symptoms and a temperature check.
- All family members over age two should be wearing a mask.
As pediatricians we are working hard to continue to provide good care in a safe environment. I would encourage all parents to contact their child’s office with any concerns they have and schedule those well-child checks. Just as we have spent the last several weeks adapting to new routines of working and learning from home, I am confident that we can adapt to the new routines of medical care.