Each fall, primary care physicians’ offices are flooded with teenagers who come in for pre-sport physicals. Although the main purpose of these physicals is to ensure students are well enough to participate in a team sport, doctors often capitalize on the visits as an opportunity to check in on all aspects of a teen’s wellness.
It is during these visits when we can screen for red flags like cardiovascular disease, disordered eating, uncontrolled convulsive disorders, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health disorders.
But this year, with high school sports on hold across the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers could miss a critical opportunity to care for a segment of our population that otherwise would not come to the doctor’s office.
Roughly 30 million athletes under the age of 18, and another 3 million athletes with special needs, receive medical clearance to participate in sports every year, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. That is too large a segment of our population skipping wellness checks for us to risk. Compound that with the mental health issues we know teens are facing during this pandemic has healthcare and education professionals concerned.
“We are excessively concerned about our kids’ mental health right now. It’s hard to know how to help them without them being physically in front of us,” Simi Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Jake Finch told me, referring to mandatory distance learning taking place this fall.
The district is actively seeking ways to address these issues, but in order to have the greatest impact, we need to work as a community to ensure our teenagers are receiving the preventive care they need.
If you are a parent, do your child a favor, and schedule your teenager for a wellness check with a doctor.
Dr. Chelsey Kahanowitch is a primary care physician for the Adventist Health Physicians Network practicing in Simi Valley, Calif.