Objective: Amid growing consumer demand and professional society recommendations for more information on early childhood development, current practices of pediatricians in regard to children's development remain largely unknown. We investigate whether there are differences in provider practices and satisfaction with regard to children's development (based on length of time in practice).
Design: A self-reported survey was conducted of physicians at 30 pediatric practices participating in the Healthy Steps for Young Children Program. Healthy Steps is a national program to enhance the developmental potential of young children. Comparisons were made among physicians categorized as in training (n = 88), recently in practice (completing residency from 1984 to 1996, n = 69), or more experienced (completing residency prior to 1984, n = 52).
Principal findings: Relative to those recently in practice and in training, more experienced pediatricians spend less time in well-baby visits in the first 2 months of life. One-third of physicians conduct family risk assessments, half complete routine developmental screening, and over half do safety risk assessments in the first 2 months of life. There were few differences by provider experience in the topics covered under anticipatory guidance for new parents. Nearly all discussed infant car seats, sleep position, feeding practices, and temperament, but less than half routinely discussed domestic violence, and between half and three-quarters discussed infant bathing, maternal depression, and appropriate discipline practices. While all three groups of physicians were satisfied with the amount of time to discuss growth and development and parenting issues, more experienced physicians were more satisfied with their own and their staff's abilities to meet new parents' needs on these issues. Factors that over one-third of physicians reported affected their ability to deliver the best-quality care were shortage of support staff, limited referral sources, managed-care restrictions on referrals for special services, excessive paperwork, and lack of time for follow up, teaching parents, and answering questions. Physicians in recent practice were more likely than more experienced physicians to cite reimbursement concerns and limited staff to address the needs of parents regarding development.
Conclusions: Most pediatricians do not conduct routine developmental screening in the first 2 months of life, and most discuss safety, as opposed to developmental and mental health, concerns with parents of newborns. Pediatricians with more experience believe they are better meeting new parents' needs and are less likely to cite systems and organizational factors as limiting their ability to deliver high-quality care.