Documenting the Harm of the Decline in Pediatric Visits: A Survey and Report from the Institute for Child Success

doctor holding stethoscope to child's chest

The Commonwealth Fund continues to track changes in outpatient visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, with October 2020 data showing outpatient care generally returning to pre-pandemic levels after the sharp decline of nearly 60 percent in late April. But the data also show that visits for younger children remain substantially below the prepandemic baseline and visits have been slower to rebound for people with Medicaid coverage compared to Medicare and commercial insurance. Telemedicine has helped fill some of the gaps, but for pediatric care, only about 5 percent of visits are conducted remotely. 

Providers responded to the pandemic by modifying their patient practices to ensure the safety of in-person care through scheduling changes (well-child visits in the morning; sick visits in the afternoon) and limiting time spent in waiting rooms. But many in the child advocacy community are still wondering how pediatric care has changed locally and what strategies have been successful to encourage safe and timely well-child visits, immunizations, and other pediatric care. 

The Institute for Child Success conducted a survey of pediatric providers in South Carolina to document the impact of the pandemic and published their findings in a report called, “COVID-19’s Impact on Pediatric Health Care in South Carolina: Supporting and Strengthening the Sector.” The report looks at four key areas: population health, patient/family health, business/professional health, and physical health. 

With respect to the decline in well-child visits and immunizations, the report finds that only about 32 percent of the vaccines expected to be administered based on previous data were actually given since the pandemic began, underscoring the urgency to increase pediatric visits as quickly as possible to catch up on critical missed care. The report authors recommend developing guidance and supporting materials to reach parents, providers, and other partners on the importance of childhood immunizations; deploying a reminder/recall system to contact parents directly; and planning “catch up” clinics.

Kelly Whitener is an Associate Professor of the Practice at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.