Preventive care is essential at every age, but it is particularly impactful in pediatrics, where conditions can be identified and treated early before negatively affecting a child’s growth, development and health outcomes. But as healthcare delivery and treatment options evolve, so must the avenues pediatric primary care providers, including pediatric nurse practitioners, use to connect with families.
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What Does Pediatric Preventive Care Entail?
In pediatric populations, preventive care focuses on promoting the health and well-being of children at each developmental stage. It also prioritizes taking proactive steps to ensure that children progress physically, mentally and emotionally in the healthiest way possible. This early intervention and monitoring can have long-lasting positive effects on a child’s overall health and improve population health trends and outcomes.
Pediatric preventive care generally occurs in primary care settings. Routine screenings, called well-child visits, allow pediatric nurses and other primary care providers ongoing opportunities to administer vaccinations and offer counseling and education. The visits create space for discussions with parents and caregivers so they can ask questions, seek advice and gather information to support children’s health.
How Does Pediatric Preventive Care Differ From Other Age Groups?
Pediatric preventive care differs from similar care for other groups. Here are some key differences:
- Developmental milestones. Children continuously grow and develop, meaning their healthcare needs change rapidly. Preventive care in this age group is tailored to developmental stages, from infancy to adolescence, and considers age-related milestones like growth, motor skills and cognitive development. For children not meeting milestones as expected, interventions and resources are introduced to the families to help overcome any physical, mental or emotional developmental delays.
- Vaccination schedule. Vaccinations are a cornerstone of pediatric preventive care. Children receive a series of immunizations to protect them from infectious diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. While vaccinations are also important for adults, pediatric care focuses on building immunity early in life to minimize future complications from preventable diseases.
- Parental involvement and education. Pediatric preventive care involves close collaboration with parents and caregivers. These adults are responsible for making children’s healthcare decisions, following recommendations and encouraging and maintaining healthy habits. In contrast, preventive care for adults typically involves individual decision-making.
How Can Pediatric Preventive Care Guidelines Improve?
Although primary preventive care services like well-child visits have been part of public policy recommendations since 2006, there remains a significant portion of children whose needs go unmet. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, only about one-third of young children receive well-child screenings. By age five, just 72.5% have had their vision tested. Experts say the data indicates that the current system may not meet families’ needs, particularly those in low-income and racial minority families, who often need interventions most.
Suggestions from the AAP to improve the reach of preventive care among the pediatric population include:
- Building trust with families by personalizing care to their unique circumstances and encouraging collaborative decision-making to address problems
- Using team-based care so preventive services are offered by multiple providers beyond pediatric and primary care, which can enhance access for families
- Customizing guidance and preventive primary care visits to each child’s and family’s needs instead of strictly adhering to recommendation schedules
Pediatric preventive care is central to promoting children’s health and well-being. Pediatric nurses may deliver this care, working closely with families and healthcare teams to ensure that children receive the necessary interventions and support for healthy development and optimal growth.