For infants and young children, the exams focus on physical and mental development, immunizations, nutrition and safety. But as children become young adults, the focus shifts to developing healthy lifestyle habits and avoiding high-risk behaviors.
“It is so beneficial for young people to develop a good relationship with a trusted health care professional,” says Tim Gutshall, M.D., chief medical officer for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Ideally, this relationship starts at a very young age and leads up to the adolescent years.”
“Even small children can develop trust and comfort with their provider, which can positively impact health behaviors,” says Gutshall. “As your child enters adolescence, having a nurturing, caring relationship with a trusted health professional is even more important. Regular health maintenance exams are a great way to make that happen.”
What’s the difference?
Most states, including Iowa, require junior high and high school students who participate in a team sport to have a sports physical before they can begin a new competitive season. Rather than a brief, sports-oriented check-up, however, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield recommends an annual health maintenance exam.
A sports physical is a basic exam that helps determine whether it’s safe for a child to participate in a particular sport. The exams are typically set up at the school or a clinic to make it more convenient. A typical sports exam takes about 15 minutes.
Most schools require only minimal information from sports physicals, including height, weight, pulse, blood pressure, a health history and brief physical examination of the major body systems.
Contrast this with a health maintenance exam. In addition to assessing a child’s readiness for athletics, health care providers can also offer laboratory testing, needed immunizations, and screen for important adolescent health issues like diabetes, obesity or depression. Plus, they give guidance about important topics such as nutrition, exercise, confidence, family, responsibility and independence.
For this reason, most Wellmark health insurance plans include only the health maintenance exam as a covered benefit, to encourage complete annual exams.
“Even if you have a sports physical, it’s a good idea to see your regular provider for an exam as well,” says Gutshall. “Your provider knows you — and your health history — better than anyone you talk to briefly during a sports physical. It’s about developing a relationship with someone you can trust.”
What if my child has already had his or her health maintenance exam this year, but is now required to have a sports physical for school?
Because your child already had a health maintenance exam, it is not necessary to also have a separate sports physical. In this case, have your provider complete the school’s physical form, and use the date of the previous physical examination.
Stay on top of your child’s immunizations and checkups with Wellmark’s preventive care guidelines found on Wellmark.com.