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Here’s why your child needs routine screenings

Health

Dr. Gregory Kostur and patient. | Health West Pediatrics

From infancy to the golden years, one of the best ways to take care of your health is to keep up with regular screenings.

Dr. Gregory Kostur of Health West Pediatrics in Pocatello has seen firsthand the benefit to his patients when they stay up to date on important health screenings.

“The biggest mistake you can make is only showing up when your child gets vaccines,” Kostur says. “If you’re only showing up when your child needs vaccines, you’re missing 90% of the screenings.”

For pediatric patients like Kostur’s, screenings include routine tests for physical, social, mental and behavioral concerns that can be addressed more effectively if they’re discovered early.

“Some examples of common things in kids are depression and anxiety,” he says. “We’re going to be looking at ADHD and autism. Some of the other things that are hidden and not as obvious are going to be things like anemia and lead poisoning.”

Regular screenings lead to better outcomes when problems are found before they have progressed.

“At low levels, any of those diseases are pretty hard to detect,” Kostur says. “People don’t just walk into the office and say, ‘I think my kid is depressed,’ if the symptoms are pretty mild, or, ‘I think my kid is anemic,’ when they aren’t really slowing down at all, and they don’t look pale. They’ll come in when it’s really obvious. You’re looking for mild things because you want to treat them at a mild level rather than it being really severe.”

Routine screenings also help doctors get to know their patients so that they are more likely to observe when something is off. Kostur shared the story of a 1-year-old patient whose parents had been diligent about keeping up with regular appointments. The baby was healthy and passed all the recommended 12-month screenings, and the doctor recommended making the switch from formula to whole milk.

When the child came back a few months later for a 15-month checkup, Kostur immediately observed that something was wrong.

“I noticed the child was already very pale,” Kostur says. Apparently, the patient had taken to whole milk too eagerly.

“This child loved milk,” Kostur says. “In fact, that’s all the kid took — whole milk. Almost three-quarters of a gallon per day.”

He says the child had developed “profound anemia in just three months” and needed a blood transfusion and extensive iron supplementation.

Kostur says that although whole milk is rich in calories and calcium, it has “virtually no iron and very few other nutrients in it,” and over-consumption can lead to under-consumption of other important nutrients.

“(The parents) expected it to be a routine visit,” he says. “They were kind of excited to tell me how much he liked milk.”

Kostur credited the parents for maintaining regular appointments so the child could be treated before it became an emergency.

“One of the things that I like the least is, I’ll have children who come in who have been moving, perhaps having a chaotic life, changing households and other things, and they haven’t been seen for years, and this whole time, there’s been a problem,” Kostur says, stressing the importance on early screening and intervention for autism.

“If we miss out on being able to do therapy during those first three years of life for a problem that’s been there, the outcome is usually a lot worse,” he says. “Detecting autism at the age of 2 and beginning therapy before 5 makes a world of difference in how effective the therapy is. … Detecting the problem as soon as it shows up is only going to be possible if you have routine health appointments.”

According to this schedule from the American Academy of Pediatrics, ages 0 to 21 should be screened regularly to keep track of height and weight and to watch for signs of anemia and heart conditions, among other things. Adults should be screened for cholesterol imbalances, cancers such as colon and breast cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes, etc. WebMD has provided a list of recommended screenings for adults.

“If you can detect a problem when it’s mild or minor, the chances of fixing it with less effect on the rest of your life is much better,” Kostur says.

The Health West network of clinics, which includes the Pocatello clinic where Kostur practices, has 12 southeast Idaho locations. The clinics are federally-funded non-profit health centers, and Kostur says that because of the clinics’ sliding scale for the cost of services, no one should hesitate to have regular checkups and regular screenings. Some patients can be seen for as little as $3 per visit if they meet certain criteria.

Health West also provides assistance in applying for Medicaid at each location. For more information on locations and services, visit Health West’s website.

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