Could Pediatricians Be Doing More for Parents?

Here's why they're not.
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Nov 2017
Pediatrician talking to mom with baby
Photo: iStock

Something you don’t hear enough after baby arrives: “How are you doing?” You’re more likely to hear, “how is the baby?” Because of that shift in attention from everyone—including yourself—maternal health issues often go untreated. But that doesn’t mean they’re going unrecognized.

A national survey published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics found that 80 percent of pediatric primary care physicians addressed at least one parental health issue at children’s checkups. But addressing more than one proved difficult. And there’s a lack of clarity about what is and isn’t the responsibility of a pediatrician.

“Our results show that pediatric primary care physicians understand how parental health issues influence their young patients’ health, but suggest that addressing them adds a layer of complexity to their practices that can understandably limit their ability or willingness to address these issues,” says Maya Venkataramani, MD, MPH, first author of the paper.

The biggest barrier pediatricians cite? Lack of time.

Some issues are more likely to be dealt with than others. For example, parental tobacco use was addressed 92.4 percent of the time, and maternal depression 82.8 percent of the time. On the other end of the spectrum, less than half of pediatricians said they addressed family planning, health insurance status or intimate partner violence.

“While the majority of respondents endorsed the relevance of these issues to child health, particularly for issues with an established evidencebase, significantly fewer felt responsible for addressing them,” the paper says. “To advance parental health promotion practices, highlighting relevance to pediatric outcomes is an important first step.”

In other words, a parent’s health status has a direct effect on baby. More research may be needed to get a better sense of the attitudes of physicians; only 239 physicians responses were recorded.

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