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Ask Dr. Dunn: Physical exams

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By Maren Dunn, D.O. Explore Big Sky Health Writer

What’s the difference between a Sports Physical and a Well Child Exam?

– Jeb, Big Sky

Each year, 30 million children and teenagers in the U.S. participate in organized sports. The sports physical – otherwise known as a pre-participation physical evaluation (PPE) – is recommended for all kids to maximize safe sports participation, while also promoting physical fitness. The goals of a PPE are to identify medical problems that could be life threatening during sports activities, detect and treat old musculoskeletal injuries, and uncover conditions that can interfere with performance.

These goals are accomplished after thorough review of family and personal medical history, and are followed by an exam. Vaccine status, including the tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (Tdap), and vision are also assessed. The child is then cleared for participation or partially restricted with recommendations for safe involvement. Occasionally a child will be fully restricted pending further work-up and treatment of any maladies.

The annual comprehensive health evaluation, also known as a well-child check (WCC), covers a more diverse collection of themes related to a child’s health and wellbeing. During this type of visit, the following are assessed: physical growth and development, puberty changes, mental health, dental and vision health, review of social and learning competence, discussion of a healthy diet and review of the complete vaccination record.

Often the PPE can be included during a WCC. However, the reverse is usually not the case since the WCC is a more in-depth evaluation. Consequently, most insurance carriers will not pay for a PPE, but will commonly cover a WCC as long as there has not been another one in the past year. It’s important to check with your insurance carrier if there are questions of coverage.

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