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Group Well Child Exams Make a Doctor's Visit Fun

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Dr. Heather Winesett reads a book with the children and parents at their two-year well-child check, during the group part of the visit.An innovative approach to well-child visits is starting at Aspirus St. Luke's Pediatric Associates.

Moms and dads now have the option of participating in group well-child sessions.

The aim is to bring parents with babies around the same age together to share experiences and advice, learning from and supporting one another while getting the same expert care from their pediatrician.

Dr. Heather Winesett, who has led a pilot group through the 18-month program of group well-child visits, said feedback has been positive.

"It gives families a chance to find community with people going through the same thing at the same time," she said. "I think it's wonderful for the kids, because the visit to the doctor is not a 10-minute poke-and-prod experience; it's two hours to come and play and eat snacks – with a little poke and prod at the end."

Each group well-child visit lasts for two hours. About half the time is a group session, in which Dr. Winesett meets with the parents and babies together.

While Dr. Winesett and the parents discuss issues ranging from behavior and development to sleep patterns and food, the infants take part in tummy time (at the earlier visits) and playing together, eating snacks and coloring (at later visits).

The second half of the well-child visit is private time for each parent and baby with Dr. Winesett. This is when the physical examination is conducted, when the parents weigh and measure their own baby, have a chance to talk over any issues they did not wish to discuss in the group setting – and any shots are administered.

"It's absolutely lovely being able to see the kids together and watch them grow together," said Stacy Seminara, whose son, Jackson Irrgang, attended his last group well-child visit, his two-year appointment, in September. "It's been helpful meeting with the other parents because they have the same questions that you do."

Carrie Thompson attended one of the pilot groups with her daughter, Taryn, who is her third child. She enjoyed being able to share her experience of being a third-time mom with others who were new to parenthood and compare strategies.

Helping to lead the group well-child checks is Mary Ann Marchel, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who specializes in infant and early childhood mental health.

"The best part about this is the parents getting to know other parents who are having similar journeys and questions, and it's not this isolating experience," said Marchel. "Some of the studies suggest this creates longer and healthier relationships between medical communities and families because this non-threatening, very open relationship is established."