Survey of pediatric physicians highlights barriers to addressing parental health issues

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While a majority of pediatricians, family medicine and medicine-pediatrics physicians who participated in a survey conducted between October 2015 and February 2016 said they'd addressed at least one parental health issue during recent patient visits, many did not feel it was their personal responsibility to do so regarding certain parental health issues, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

The survey featured questions to assess physician attitudes regarding six parental health issues known to impact the health and well-being of children: maternal depression, tobacco use, intimate partner violence, tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis immunization status, health insurance status, and family planning.

Eighty percent of the 239 physicians who responded to the survey said they had addressed at least one parental health issue at 25 percent or more of well-patient pediatric visits. Feelings of responsibility for addressing parental health problems varied based upon the specific issue. Most said it was their responsibility to address maternal depression (85.7 percent), tobacco use (93.3 percent), Tdap immunization status (81.8 percent) and intimate partner violence (62.8 percent). However, just 31.9 and 22.6 percent, respectively, said they felt responsible for addressing family planning and health insurance issues. Additionally, 85 percent of respondents cited a lack of time as a barrier to addressing parental health problems, and more than 50 percent said referral-related issues were a barrier to tackling the issues.

"Surveys such as ours not only highlight the scope of parental health promotion already occurring in pediatric primary care settings, but also reinforce the need to better understand how health systems can support current practices and what factors influence pediatricians' attitudes toward engaging in these activities," said Tina Cheng, MD, pediatrician-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore and one of the study's authors. "Parental health promotion in pediatrics has great potential to address health across generations, and to realize this potential we need to understand how to improve current practices."

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