Reach Out and Read + COVID-19: Dr. Leyla Hamizadeh Explains Virtual Well-Child Visits

Dr. Hamizadeh

The image of a well-child visit with your child’s provider is simple: you go to the clinic, the provider provides anticipatory guidance and advice, checks your child’s developmental progress and whether they need any immunizations, and you take care of any additional follow-up as needed. But because of COVID-19, these visits have looked much different.

Leyla Hamizadeh, M.D., pediatrician at Children’s Wisconsin, conducted well-child visits virtually as Wisconsin’s Safer-At-Home order was in place. The visits may have looked different and involved no physical contact, but the information covered and messages given to families remained just as important.

“We’ve never done virtual visits prior to the pandemic, so it was definitely something new,” Dr. Hamizadeh said. “For our visits we covered topics such as concerns the parent might have, nutrition, sleep, vaccines the child was due for, the importance of reading while at home and more.”

Dr. Hamizadeh conducted well-child visits for children ages 4 to 18 months via video chat or phone call and covered typical health topics. The video visits allowed Dr. Hamizadeh to see the children and help out parents by answering questions and providing information and encouragement.

While pediatric primary care clinics begin to transition back to in-person appointments, one of the key messages remain strong: the importance of promoting early literacy.

“Many children are learning at home as schools and childcare centers remain closed, and it’s crucial to limit screen time and continue reading,” explains Dr. Hamizadeh. “Reading to young children helps them with cognitive development, but it can act as a breath of fresh air for parents, too.”

“We promote daily reading from an early age to help language development and to help children learn to have a life-long love of reading. Reading is especially important now because there’s elevated levels of stress for both parents and children, and reading is a great way to reduce that stress while creating a stronger bond between children and parents.”

Starting and ending a day with reading can guarantee that the day will both begin and end in a positive way.  In uncertain times, reading with children is a way to produce smiles, laughs and creativity in otherwise stressful situations.

Dr. Hamizadeh also wants parents to know that it’s OK to feel stressed and overwhelmed. It’s OK to not meet every expectation, it’s OK to not keep a regular scheduled every day and it’s OK to take some time for yourself.

When many things feel confusing and stressful, reading a book to a child is a much needed, sweet escape. As Children’s Wisconsin begins to transition back to in-person visits, Dr. Hamizadeh is looking forward to one thing that she’s missed so dearly: Handing a book to a smiling, young child.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin by the Numbers

266: Participating clinics in Wisconsin

1,850: Participating medical providers

159,000: Children served

235,000: New books distributed

Our COVID-19 disaster response must consider children

This article was originally published by the Cap Times on March 23, 2020.

Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

One of the small, initial reliefs of being a pediatrician amid this pandemic was the news early on from China that children seemed to be spared the worst of the effects of COVID-19. I’ve witnessed firsthand how deeply children are affected by viruses such as seasonal influenza — 149 U.S. children (and counting) have died this season alone. While we certainly never wish harm upon anyone, knowing that children appear to not bear the brunt of this illness was good.

Or is it? The fundamental interconnectedness of our society has been placed in stark contrast by the coming of this pandemic. While children are far less touched by direct infection, they are deeply affected by the unprecedented disruption to our everyday life. Efforts to reduce the exposure to those at risk have rapidly ramped up. (And for those who think that is a small number: one analysis showed 41% of all U.S. adults fall into a higher-risk category.)

So how can we best keep children and families in mind as we adjust as a society to this new reality? There are numerous parent-aimed resources appearing daily on ideas for activities, learning, staying healthy and remaining socially-connected. But there’s plenty of work we can do with institutions, programs and policy. My thoughts:

1. Children are going to continue to need checkups, evaluation of illness and injury, hospitalizations and care for chronic conditions — these all will continue to be needs. Certainly, some can be delayed, but there will be limits to how long that is advisable.

2. Child care is a vast challenge, particularly as many parents will need to continue to work. There’s active work going on to solve this, but it will take a team effort. And while flexibility in child care standards is needed, we should ensure children are not being given poor (or even dangerous) care in the name of expediency. Children still deserve experienced care from those who understand their needs.

3. Many families rely on school and early education-based nutrition programs to avoid chronic hunger. The USDA is offering broad leeway to allow those programs to continue, even with schools being closed. If that’s not happening in your area, ask why.

4. Essential personnel are not just front-line health care workers. Within hospitals and clinics alone, there are so many people needed to provide care even for direct pandemic response. And many others are also arguably “essential” — the early education teachers who care for the children of health care workers? Those who keep our supermarket shelves stocked? Public safety personnel? All essential. And that means we should pay them living wages, and offer them health insurance and paid sick leave. Treat them as truly essential, not just in name.

5. Speak up for our marginalized and least resourced neighbors. Many of us have the privilege of easily finding backup child care, or paid sick leave, or ample financial security. Countless families have none of this, and many are losing employment or taking deep pay cuts. When the economic stability of homes is threatened, the lives of children are disrupted. Speedy, stabilizing solutions are needed, that reach all.