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Doctors Warn AZ Parents Not to Skip Kids' Pediatric Appointments

Public health officials say, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, almost 80% of Arizona children have not seen a pediatrician. (rawpixel/AdobeStock)
Public health officials say, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, almost 80% of Arizona children have not seen a pediatrician. (rawpixel/AdobeStock)
May 29, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - While Arizonans wait for medical research to develop a cure for new coronavirus, health officials are concerned that children are missing out on other, important health care and screenings.

An American Academy of Pediatrics survey indicates about eight in ten Arizona children haven't seen a pediatrician since the COVID-19 crisis began in March, and says that puts many kids at risk.

Dr. Gary Kirklas, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children's Hospital, says parents have told him they have concerns that children could be exposed to COVID-19 or other diseases at a doctor's office or clinic.

"I definitely appreciate people's caution about coming in," says Kirklas. "But the reality is, when you have the rates drop like that, you're going to put your child at risk for some of those more scary illnesses."

He says some families may also be avoiding the doctor because they don't have enough money, lost their health coverage or are worried about their immigration status. He urges them to have a confidential talk with the doctor's staff, who can help overcome those concerns.

Kirkilas says most doctors are able to use tele-medicine sessions by computer or phone for routine visits, but some situations call for an in-person checkup. He adds that parents need to be cautious, but put the perceived risks of visiting a clinic during the pandemic in perspective.

"Things like measles and pertussis, those do affect children more than COVID," says Kirklas. "But you want to get your kids in because you want to prevent those illnesses that do target kids more."

Dr. Andreas Theodorou, chief of pediatrics at Banner Health in Tucson, says parents should call the doctor's office ahead of time and ask what specific precautions they're taking to keep young patients healthy and safe during a visit.

"You want to make sure that there's either a 'separate-well-from-sick' clinic, either by location or by timing," says Theodorou. "You want to make sure that the clinic staff are all taking proper precautions - wearing masks, temperature checks. That rooms are regularly cleaned."

Theodorou emphasizes that regular, routine health visits for children are extremely important right now. He says a combination of tele-medicine and in-person visits - from well-child checkups and vaccinations to hearing tests and vision tests - can help parents keep their kids safe.

Mark Richardson/Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AZ