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Archive for Tuesday, August 18, 1992

SCHOOL PHYSICALS HELP DETECT PROBLEMS EARLY

August 18, 1992

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For many of us, August is a time for relaxing vacations, late evening strolls or just sitting a spell on the front porch.

But not for Terry Riordan, a local pediatrician.

"This time of year is crazy," Riordan said, chuckling on a recent Friday afternoon. "It's just absolutely crazy."

Why? In August, Riordan and other pediatricians have a backlog of students who need back-to-school physicals or athletic physicals.

"It's a great thing to have," Riordan said of the check-ups. "But it gets to be a very busy month."

The yearly "well child checks" help physicians detect growth problems early, when such problems are more easily corrected, he said.

FOR EXAMPLE, the physicals can turn up curvature of the back.

"And you find school problems that occur, such as learning difficulties," he said.

"I had one adolescent who came in who had a kidney disease, and if he hadn't come in he might have lost both kidneys."

Most of the children Riordan sees, though, "do just fine."

And the health assessments give physicians a chance to stress safety issues.

"To little kids, that means wearing helmets when they're riding a bike," Riordan said. "To the older kids, we try to talk to them about sexual activity and the medical implications."

Riordan said 70 percent to 80 percent of the patients he sees probably don't receive much information from their parents about sex.

"I think it's just a subject that is difficult for parents to talk about," he said. "In my generation, it was probably even higher."

HOWEVER, HE said AIDS had sparked more conversations about sexuality.

"So we can talk to them about that and answer questions that they're sometimes afraid to ask their parents."

Riordan said he recommended that children have the routine physicals every year.

"I found two diabetics during routine screenings before they even got sick, which was very beneficial to them," he said.

The Lawrence Health Department also provides physicals, but mainly for children up to age 5, said Barbara Schnitker, director of nurses at the health department, 336 Mo.

"It is recommended that kids have a physical before they enter school," Schnitker said.

She said the health department offers physicals by appointment on a sliding fee scale, depending on income.

"WE HAVE limited times when we do those," she said. "They're available on Tuesday afternoons and some Monday evenings."

Besides the physical assessments, the health department also makes sure the child has all the required immunization.

"The parent is counseled on growth and development and other concerns, such as nutrition and safety," Schnitker said. "We do height, weight, and vision screenings. If any problems are found they would be referred to a private physician."

Physicals also are provided by Health Care Access, 1920 Moodie Rd., a local agency that provides health care services to low-income residents and families.

Judy Eyerly, director, said the agency can provide physicals for children whose families meet the income restriction of 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $1,100 per month for a family of two, $1,400 a month for a family of three, and $1,675 for a family of four.

"THE OTHER criteria is that they don't have any other insurance or medical card that would cover the cost of the physical," Eyerly said. "We see a few a week, pretty much all ages."

She said there was a $5 charge for the physical "but no one would be refused if they could not pay."

Starting in the fall of 1993, the state will require health assessments for any child entering a Kansas school for the first time, said Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence.

Praeger said the new law was one of several laws dealing with improving the lives of children in the state.

"There was some concern that there might be some increased cost," Praeger said. "But we talked with the public health departments and we felt any increased cost in requiring the physical would be offset by the ability to correct problems before they became extensive. . . . It's really designed to help children get out who have never really seen a doctor."

PRAEGER SAID exemptions to the health assessment requirements, such as for religious reasons, are the same as those that affect the current immunization requirements.

She said physicians across the state had pointed to the need for the physicals to solve problems.

"Many times kids identified as having behavior problems don't have behavior problems," she said. "They can't hear, for example. Or perhaps they have vision problems."

"One of the biggest health problems that results in dropouts is asthma because they can't sleep and they're tired," she said. "I was amazed to find out that was one of the biggest reasons for dropping out of school."

Praeger said the Legislature's goal in making the requirement was ultimately to produce a better student.

"It goes back to the national goal of starting school ready to learn," she said. "And being healthy is an essential part of that."

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