Thinking about skipping your child's annual checkup because he or she got a sports physical? Not a good idea — it can have serious consequences.

Dr. Ankita Patel

“The sports physical is just one component of the yearly well checkup,” said Dr. Ankita Patel of Novant Health Meadowlark Pediatrics in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “We’re also making sure they’re up to date on their vaccines. We’re checking their hearing and vision. We’re watching how they’re growing to make sure they’re gaining weight appropriately. We’re checking for chronic diseases and managing food allergies, making sure their medications are up to date, doing blood work on certain visits. We’re also screening for anxiety and depression, which is really important.”

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    A lot can happen between ages 13 and 17, and these things should be monitored.

    “If we don’t do a physical every year, things can get missed and it’s going to be a whole two years before some of these kids come in to a doctor’s office,” Patel said. ”As they get older, they’re not coming in as frequently for colds and things like that. Many things can happen in that time.”

    There are several things we can find at a well-checkup that parents or children aren’t complaining about at the time. We’ve found heart murmurs that have been undiagnosed and hernias. I found testicular cancer on a teenager who was too embarrassed to tell anybody. He’d had a lump for a while.”

    Sports physical versus well-visit exam: What’s the difference?

    A sports physical typically focuses on reviewing a child’s current health status and medical history to determine if they’re healthy enough to play their sport. The physician reviews any injuries (current or previous) and determines risk. The areas of focus usually include height and weight, vision, hearing, blood pressure, heart health, muscle and bone health, flexibility and strength.

    Patel said pediatricians also emphasize:

    • Educating the student on injury prevention.
    • Making sure the athlete understands proper hydration.
    • Teaching the importance of pre- and post-activity stretching.
    • Discussing concussion prevention (and management, if necessary).

    A well-visit is more thorough. In addition to physical health, physicians also focus on developmental, emotional and social aspects. Your child’s cognitive and social milestones are assessed to ensure proper development in those areas. The physician likely will discuss important topics such as drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, healthy relationships and puberty.

    Other important aspects of a well-visit include:

    • Discussing mental health and screening for depression.
    • Identifying a previously undiagnosed illness (diabetes, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiac disease, hypertension).
    • Monitoring of a chronic or known illness.
    • Keeping immunizations up to date.
    • Completing screening tests.

    Bottom line: Your child needs to see a pediatrician every year to make sure they’re in good health and that doctors have the chance to catch problems early. That’s the safest course of action parents can take for their kids.