New research shows that taking your kids to the doctor’s office may increase their risk of getting sick, but that’s no reason not to take them, pediatricians say.
Following so-called well-child visits at the pediatrician’s office, young children and their family members have a 3.2 percent higher risk of contracting flu-like infections, according to the new study published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. Although the increase may appear modest, experts say it amounts to about 700,000 additional flu-like infections each year. Speaking to NBC's Today, Pennsylvania mom Heather Day said the results help explain her own child’s health pattern.
“It always seemed that at those annual well visits, nine times out of 10 … she got another ear infection,” she said of her 18-month-old daughter Ashley. “I was just here and she was fine, and now she is sick.”
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, looked at data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey — a large sample gathered by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which includes records from about 84,595 kids collected between 1996 and 2008. The team looked at office visits, trips to the emergency room, as well as other outpatient contact with primary-care providers. “The risk to any individual patients is small but when you factor in how many well-child visits there are each year then they come up with a very large number,” Dr. Charles Foster, a pediatric infection disease physician at the Cleveland Clinic, told reporters.
So What Does This Mean?
While no one wants to be sick, the results of the study appear to faze neither its authors nor the pediatric community, who are quick to remind the public that kids will be kids. Flu and cold travel quickly among children — and in hospital waiting rooms, the threat of infection naturally becomes more immediate. Still, this is no reason to avoid well-child visits, which experts hold to be crucial to public health.
"Well child visits are critically important,” said lead author Phil Polgreen, who believes that pediatricians themselves must take responsibility, in a statement. “Our results demonstrate that healthcare professionals should devote more attention to reducing the risk of spreading infections in waiting rooms and clinics. Infection control guidelines currently exist. To increase patient safety in outpatient settings, more attention should be paid to these guidelines by healthcare professionals, patients, and their families."
The findings are the latest in a long line of developments regarding large-scale pediatric health. Another example is the New York City Board of Health’s 2013 mandate on influenza immunization, which requires that all kids enrolled in city-licensed day care services and preschools receive seasonal flu shots.
"Our results should encourage ambulatory clinics to strictly enforce infection control recommendations," the researchers concluded in their study. "In addition, clinics could consider time-shifting of well-child visits so as not to coincide with the peak of the influenza season."
Source: Simmering J, Polgreen L, Cavanaugh J, et al. Are Well-Child Visits a Risk Factor for Subsequent Influenza-Like Illness Visits? Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. 2014.