Checking up: Promoting well-child visits good for healthy kids, futures

HOUGHTON — Many kids in the Upper Peninsula are not getting regular checkups, particularly as they get older. Upper Peninsula Health Plan (UPHP) and Upper Peninsula Health Group (UPHG) are trying to improve those numbers.

The resulting Healthy Kids, Health Futures campaign is a U.P.-wide partnership with area practices for summer health checkups. The initiative is intended to target ages 3 to 18.

“We offered it to all of the practices that we were affiliated with and the idea was to get as many kids in July and August in for wellness exams,” said UPHP Clinical Coordinator Chris Rhoades.

Though not unique to the U.P., Rhoades describes a decline in kids getting yearly exams the initiative hopes to combat.

The checkups include immunization, blood pressure, developmental and behavioral screenings.

“I think is a lot of parents don’t always feel that the well-care is necessary. They look at their kids and say, ‘oh they’re healthy, they’re fine, they’re good,'” Rhoades said. “They might not understand the importance of having those regular checkups with the doctor.”

The idea is to catch any issues early, which parents might miss. They can also screen for development delays.

Some parents with children in sports may see a sports physical as a replacement but may not realize they cover less than a well-care exam would, Rhoades explained. Checkups are generally consistent until the age of three where things begin to drop off and continue to do so, he said.

For the younger kids, a screening is more about staying on top of development concerns.

However, as kids approach adulthood and spend more time away from parents, it can be important to have those other screenings for areas like behavior, depression, anxiety and drug use.

“There’s a lot of things that can get caught during those visits, you can kind of sniff out a problem way before it becomes a bigger problem,” Rhoades said.

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures initiative is the first of its kind for UPHP and UPHG.

“The whole idea… is really, three years all the way on up (as) these kids are getting older to make sure they are in the best possible state, physically, mentally, emotionally all that, as you kind of send them off into young adulthood,” Rhoades said.

They grow up fast after all, he added.

Long term, Rhoades hopes the initiative will improve screening rates in the region and encourage both participating and non-participating locations to work to get kids regular screenings.

Both participating kids and locations could see prizes with kids entered in a raffle and offices competing to reach as many of their unserved young patients as possible.