As summer rolls on, many parents start making lists of all the things they need to do before the new school year starts. Getting a school physical for your child should definitely get a space on your to-do list. This is your chance to make sure your child is healthy and everything is on track—and nothing problematic is going undetected.

While 2020 may not be like any other school year, checking in on physical health is always a safe practice, even if classes will be online in your area.

Does your child need a physical every year?

If you live in an area that’s currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, the CDC recommends delaying routine healthcare—but the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) is urging consistent care. It’s always a good practice to see what your child’s provider recommends.

On the day of the appointment, you should stay home if you’re experiencing symptoms of coronavirus. Make sure to wear a mask when you go to the healthcare facility, and stay in the car until your appointment time to limit contact with others in the waiting room.

What does a school physical consist of?

During a typical school physical appointment, your child’s pediatrician will likely check the following:

  • Vital signs, including blood pressure, height, weight, body mass index
  • Visual screening
  • Hearing screening
  • Mood screening
  • Medical history, including any issues with bowel movements, nutrition, sleeping, dental hygiene, and development
  • Family medical history
  • Physical health, an exam to make sure everything’s in working order, like joints and bones
  • Cardiovascular risk status, including any history of early cardiovascular problems in family members.

Your child’s healthcare provider will also give both of you the chance to ask any questions or express any concerns you may have.

Be truthful with your child’s doctor about your child’s medical history and your family’s medical history. That information helps doctors get a clear picture of your child’s overall health—and their risk for developing certain conditions or incurring certain injuries.

If you’ve recently taken your child to a primary care provider for a check-up, you may not need to make another appointment for a school physical. A school check-up is more likely to be necessary if you haven’t brought your child in for a check-up or well-child visit within the past year.

School physical vs. sports physical 

If your child plays a sport at school, chances are there’s a permission slip out there, waiting for your signature. And there’s also a form that needs to be signed by your child’s provider, clearing them to play the sport. That form is asking you to take your child to get a sports physical.

Sports physicals and school physicals exams have a lot in common. They both emphasize the importance of a thorough medical history, including any family history of issues that could affect the child’s health.

But, don’t wait too long to schedule the visit. You don’t want to run out of time before the forms are due back to your child’s school. It’s best to schedule a visit at least six weeks before your child is due to start a sport or school in case there are any other visits or treatments necessary for clearance.

If you’re pressed for time, you could visit a local walk-in clinic that offers school physicals, but you might wind up paying out of pocket for some of the cost. Additionally, a walk-in clinic won’t have your medical records and might not have pediatric-trained providers. Dr. Fisher urges parents who go this route to be sure to follow up later with their child’s pediatrician.

Does insurance cover school physicals? 

One thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is paying for the physical. Typically, your health insurance should cover the cost of an annual physical or check-up and immunizations for your child without copays.