Jun 20, 2020 - Health

Pediatricians are waiting for the kids to come back

Illustration of a teddy bear wearing a surgical mask surrounded by colored circles.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The coronavirus outbreak has created a frightening, cash-strapped couple of months for pediatricians, as parents deferred vaccines and care for their kids.

Why it matters: Pediatric offices are still among the hardest hit physician specialties, and doctors are worried important care is falling by the wayside.

What they're saying: "Our patient volumes are slowly increasing, but it's certainly not anywhere close to where it used to be," said Daniel Summers, a private practice pediatrician in the northern suburbs of Boston.

By the numbers: Pediatric office visits dropped by more than 60% from March to April and were the slowest to recover of all other physician specialties going into May, according to researchers at Harvard University and health tech firm Phreesia.

  • Parents had a lot of anxiety about bringing in their kids for routine checkups and shots, knowing a health care setting could be a highly contagious spot.

Where it stands: Pediatricians have changed how they care for kids, with dwindling cash reserves.

  • Most offices pivoted immediately to virtual visits, like other specialties.
  • As they've begun to reopen, they're now better stocked on personal protective equipment, and in-person visits are often staggered. For example, wellness checks could be in the mornings, while sick visits (including potential coronavirus cases) can be reserved for afternoons.
  • Some pediatricians got federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, which has provided some financial stability since they were shut out of the initial health care bailout payments.

The bottom line: Families are still delaying care, even in acute cases — like when one child fell off a trampoline and broke an arm, but waited a day before getting it checked out, said Sara Goza, a practicing pediatrician and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • "We're missing things because kids aren't coming in," she said.
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