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Gearing up for school days

Make sure to schedule preventive exams

This article was last updated on August 4, 2020.

** Preventive care plays an important role in your overall health. However, seeking preventive care during the coronavirus pandemic may look different than it has before. Please be sure to contact your provider or visit their website before your appointment to learn about special procedures that might be in place. **


It's never too early to start ticking off items on your back-to-school checklist. Pens, folders, notebooks and backpacks — these are simple items you can pick up the night before school starts if you put off shopping. But, one thing you should starting thinking about now is your child's annual health maintenance, or preventive, exam.

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., vice president and chief medical officer at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Ideally, this relationship starts at a very young age and leads up to the adolescent years.”

“Even young 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 personal doctor is even more important. Regular health maintenance exams are a great way to make that happen.”

Sports physicals vs. health maintenance exams: what's the difference?

Most states, including Iowa and South Dakota, 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. However, rather than a brief, sports-oriented check-up, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield recommends an annual health maintenance exam. These annual exams are typically covered at 100 percent by your Wellmark health plan. Just be sure to log in to or register for myWellmark® Opens New Window to check your plan's specific benefits and out-of-pocket costs before making an appointment.

A sports physical External Site 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 dynamics, and independence.

“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 already had a health maintenance exam?

If you child is required to have a sports physical for school but 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.

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