Each community may have unique public health regulations and timing based on local risks, but here are some new things you'll probably encounter when you take your child back to the pediatrician.
1. More use of telehealth and virtual office visits
Virtual visits are adequate for non-emergency situations, especially for problems that can be diagnosed visually or by history alone. For example, virtual visits can be a good first step for simple rashes, pinkeye, vomiting, diarrhea or common colds. With severe illness, or when an exam, tests or procedures are needed, an in-person evaluation will be required.
Many clinics are expanding to include telehealth options. If your current provider or local clinic offers this service, it's ideal to continue seeing a provider who knows you. (This will also help keep your local clinic in business, which is good for you, especially for issues that telehealth cannot address!)
If your local clinic does not offer telehealth, other nationwide platforms exist, some of which specialize in pediatric care. You can ask for a referral from your health insurance provider or ask trusted friends or online moms' groups for recommendations. Or you can search online—the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) offers thorough guidelines for what to look for in a virtual pediatric care provider.
2. Dedicated times and areas for well visits vs. sick visits
Many pediatricians' offices and clinics are dedicating certain times of the day for sick visits and other times for well-child visits. When possible, exam rooms are also being designated for either sick or well-child care.
That said, most pediatricians' offices are busy, and the flow of patients throughout the day is far from predictable. This may lead to some access issues and more waiting, especially if your child's issues are less urgent. Though it's annoying to have to wait, consider it a blessing if your child is not the one being rushed to the head of the line! And if you think your child's issues are becoming urgent, definitely speak up with the office staff.
3. Added infection control + physical distancing measures
Since the sanitizing measures in your clinic are likely stepped-up, this may diminish the number of kids that can be seen on a given day. Try to have your own kids wash their hands or use hand sanitizer prior to entering the clinic and immediately upon leaving (especially before eating or touching their faces). Try to maintain social distancing recommendations by keeping at least six feet from all individuals outside your household, except for those providing direct medical care. Siblings may be asked to stay home when possible.
4. Masks will be required
Masks will likely be required for adults and children over 2 years old. Take time to learn about how mask recommendations are different for children than they are for adults—here's how the AAP breaks down mask-wearing for kids, and how Nationwide Children's Hospital explains why babies should not wear masks.
5. Vaccine catch-up
Many children have fallen behind on the normal vaccine schedule because of postponed non-urgent appointments. The American Academy of Pediatrics has launched a #CallYourPediatrician campaign to help invite families back into the routine of regular preventative care and vaccinations. Because of the pandemic and vaccine delays, outbreaks of certain vaccine-preventable illnesses could theoretically occur if overall vaccination rates drop. Specific vaccine catch-up guidelines already exist to help your provider determine a catch-up plan for your child, so your child can get back on track.
6. Parking lot waiting rooms
As a crowd control measure, many clinics are checking in families over the phone and having them wait in their cars until it's time to be roomed. Consider bringing water, snacks and activities that will help you and your kids endure the waiting process. Do your best to regulate car temperatures, especially if you have a small infant—and do not leave kids unattended in your vehicle.
Overall, this is a time that will require flexibility and grace for us all. Though the added logistics may seem inconvenient, our tolerance will increase as we recognize the extra efforts and accommodations being made on all sides during this complex time. Parents, be kind to yourselves. The pandemic has presented the difficult task of preserving your children's health while preserving their childhoods. May you navigate wisely and well.