Pediatric practices keep kids on schedule for well-child checkups

A pediatrician and his patient

Pediatric practices are using new tools, including text messages, to help ensure parents bring their children in for well-child visits, particularly in their first three years of childhood.

It’s a challenge for pediatric practices to get parents to follow the recommended schedule for well-child visits and screenings, which includes about a dozen appointments during those critical developmental years before children turn 3, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Pediatricians are improving adherence to that schedule with text messages that remind parents about checkups and provide age-specific health messages, the report said. Practices are also using a team approach involving nurses, health coaches and medical assistants who spend time educating families and conducting screening tests to free up time for pediatricians to focus on important health issues during visits.

Park Nicollet Clinics, part of the HealthPartners healthcare system based in Bloomington, Minnesota, began sending text message reminders to parents with children under the age of 3 in January. More than 70 percent of 772 parents who received a reminder have scheduled an appointment for their child. The reminders also help get parents to arrive at appointments early so doctors can flag any issues. The clinic uses CareWire, a company that provides text messaging services to healthcare providers, to send the reminders. Parents can confirm to cancel appointments via text if they need to reschedule.

Another effective way the clinic gets the most out of appointments is to send a questionnaire by mail asking parents about any developmental and behavioral issues. Team members can then review answers with parents during the visit.

UCLA has also had success with a team-based model that includes a ‘parent coach’ who provides guidance, screening and referrals; a website for pre-visit screenings; an automated text message service that provides health messages to parents; and a problem-focused visit with a pediatrician. Results, published in March in the journal Pediatrics, showed improved preventive care measures and fewer emergency room visits.

“We can use waiting room time for a parent coach to review development, behavior, topics specific to age and ask parents what they want to focus on with the doctor,” Tumaini Rucker Coker, M.D., the lead study author, told the WSJ.