CHICAGO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Bracing his audience for a whirlwind tour of the many updates to the fourth edition of Bright Futures, Joseph F. Hagan Jr., MD, said that it’s still completely possible to fit Bright Futures visits into a clinic day.

“I practice primary care pediatrics,” said Dr. Hagan, a pediatrician in private practice and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Vermont, both in Burlington. “I said to my colleagues, if I didn’t think I could do this in 18 minutes, I wouldn’t ask you to do it.”

The Bright Futures framework, described by Dr. Hagan as the health prevention and disease prevention component of the medical home for children and youth, emerges in the Fourth Edition with a significant evidence-based refresher. The changes and updates are built within the existing framework and encompass surveillance and screening recommendations as well as anticipatory guidance. All content, including family-facing material, has been updated, said Dr. Hagan, a coeditor of the Fourth Edition of Bright Futures. He spoke at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Who can use Bright Futures? Clearly, it’s for health care professionals. But there’s information there you can use for families. There’s family-directed pieces and handouts, especially in the toolkits,” said Dr. Hagan.

New clinical content

“What’s new? Maternal depression screening is new,” said Dr. Hagan, noting that the recommendation has long been under discussion. Now, supported by a 2016 United States Preventative Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation that carries a grade B level of evidence, all mothers should be screened for depression at the 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-month Bright Futures visits.

However, he said, know your local regulations. “State mandates to do more might overrule this.” And conversely, “Just because we’re doing it universally until 6 months doesn’t mean you couldn’t selectively screen later if you have concerns.”

Safe sleep is another area with new clinical focus, he said. The new recommendation for the child to sleep in the parent’s room for “at least 6 months” draws on data from European studies showing lower mortality for children who share a room with parents during this period.

Clinicians should continue to recommend that parents not sleep with their infants in couches, chairs, or beds. As before, parents should be told not to have loose blankets, stuffed toys, or crib bumpers in their babies’ cribs. Another key message, said Dr. Hagan, is that “There is no such thing as safe ‘breast-sleeping.’ ”

Parents should be reminded not to swaddle at nap – or bedtime. The risk is that even a 2-month-old infant may be capable of wriggling over from back to front, and a swaddled infant whose hands are trapped may not be able to clear its airway once prone. “Swaddle for comfort, swaddle for crying, swaddle for comfort, but don’t swaddle for sleep” is the message, said Dr. Hagan.

Although much of the safe sleep recommendations that pediatricians have been making might be compatible with the Fourth Edition updates, it’s still a good time to review how you’re talking about sleep, as well as updates in the accompanying documentation, he said.

For breast-fed babies, iron supplementation should begin at the 4-month visit. The notion is to prevent progression from iron deficiency to frank anemia, said Dr. Hagan. “We know that we screen for iron deficiency anemia … but we also know that before you’re iron deficient anemic, you’re iron deficient,” he said, and iron’s also critical to brain development and function. For convenience, switching from vitamin D alone to a multivitamin drop with iron at 4 months is a practical choice.

New dental health recommendations bring prevention to the pediatrician’s office. “Fluoride varnish? Do it!” said Dr. Hagan. Although the USPSTF made a 2014 grade B recommendation that primary care clinicians apply fluoride varnish to primary teeth as soon as they erupt, “It’s new to the Bright Futures periodicity schedule,” he said; parents can be assured that fluoride varnish does not cause fluorosis.

The good news for clinicians, he noted. “Once it hits the periodicity schedule, now, it’s a billable service that must be paid” under Affordable Care Act regulations, said Dr. Hagan. “Don’t let your insurer say, ‘That’s part of what you’re already being paid for.’ ” He recommends avoiding the pressure to bundle this important service. Use the discrete CPT code 99188, “Application of a fluoride varnish by a physician or other qualified health care professional.”

Although Bright Futures has updated recommendations for dyslipidemia blood screening, the USPSTF found insufficient evidence to back lipid screening for those younger than 20 years of age, citing an inability to assess the balance of benefits and harms for universal, rather than risk-based, screening. However, said Dr. Hagan, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute were looking at this issue at about the same time, and they “did a really good job of showing their work,” to show that if family history alone guided screening in the pediatric population, it “just wasn’t getting done.”

Accordingly, Bright Futures recommends one screening between ages 9 and 11 years and an additional screening between ages 17 and 21. These windows are designed to bracket puberty, said Dr. Hagan, because values can be skewed during that period. “It’s billable, it’s not bundle-able, and I’d recommend that you do it,” he said.

Developmental surveillance and screening

What’s new with developmental surveillance and screening? “Well, we could argue that the milestones are something to think about, because the milestones are the cornerstone of developmental surveillance,” said Dr. Hagan. “You’re in the room with the kid. You’re trained, you’re experienced, you’re smart, you know if their development is good or bad.”

As important as surveillance is, though, he said, it is “nowhere near as important as screening.” Surveillance happens at every well-child visit, but there’s no substitute for formal developmental screening. For the Fourth Edition guidance and toolkit, milestones have been adjusted to reflect what’s really being seen as more parents adopt the Back to Sleep recommendations as well.

A standardized developmental screening tool is used at the 9-, 18-, and 30-month visits, and when parents or caregivers express concern about development. Autism-specific screening happens at 18 and 24 months.

“Remember this, if you remember nothing else: If the screening is positive, and you believe there’s a problem, you’re going to refer,” not just to the appropriate specialist but also for early intervention services, so time isn’t lost as the child is waiting for further evaluation and a formal diagnosis, said Dr. Hagan. This coordinated effort appropriately places the responsibility for early identification of developmental delays and disorders at the doorstep of the child’s medical home.

The federally-coordinated Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! effort has aggregated research-based screening tools, users’ guides targeted at a variety of audiences, and resources to help caregivers, said Dr. Hagan.

Four commonly-used tools to consider using during the visit are the Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, the Child Health and Development Interactive System, and the Survey of Wellbeing of Young Children. Of these, said Dr. Hagan, the latter is the only tool that’s in the public domain. However, he said, they are “all really good.”

Consider having parents fill out screening questionnaires in the waiting room before the visit, said Dr. Hagan. “I always tell my colleagues, ‘Have them start the visit before you, if you want to get it done in 18 minutes.’ ”

Two questionnaires per visit are available in the Bright Futures toolkit. One questionnaire asks developmental surveillance and risk assessment questions for selective screening. The second questionnaire asks prescreening questions to help with the anticipatory guidance part of the visit, he said. Having families do these ahead of time, said Dr. Hagan, “allows you to become more focused.”

Paying attention to practicalities can make all this go more smoothly, and maximize reimbursement as well. In his own practice, Dr. Hagan said, screening tools and questionnaires are integrated into the EHR system, so that appropriate paperwork prints automatically ahead of the visit.

It’s also worth reviewing billing practices to make sure that CPT code 96110 is used when administering screening with a standardized instrument and completing scoring and documentation. According to the Bright Futures periodicity schedule, this may be done at the 9-, 18-, and 30-month visits for developmental screening, as well as at 18 and 24 months for autism-specific screening.

Promoting lifelong health

Since the initial Bright Futures guidelines were published in the late 1990s, said Dr. Hagan, the focus has always been on seeing the child as part of the family, who, in turn, are part of the community, forming a framework that addresses the social components of child health. “If you’re not looking at the whole picture, you’re not promoting health,” he said. “It’s no big surprise that we now have a specific, called-out focus on promoting lifelong health.”

Stress in early childhood can have lifelong adverse effects on brain development and physical and mental health. Although new studies are making the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences ever clearer, “We’re pediatricians. We’ve always known that,” said Dr. Hagan, citing the collective knowledge of physicians who’ve spent so many thousands of hours caring for families in all circumstances.

In the Fourth Edition, the theme of promoting lifelong health for families and communities is woven throughout, with social determinants of health being a specific visit priority. For example, questions about food insecurity have been drawn from the published literature and are included. Also, said Dr. Hagan, there’s specific anticipatory guidance content that’s clearly marked as addressing social determinants of health.

The fundamental importance of socioeconomic status as a social determinant of health was brought home by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America, which showed that, “Your ZIP code is more important to your health than your genetic code,” said Dr. Hagan. “So your work in health supervision is important, and you have been leaders in this effort.”

Research guides Bright Futures updates

The fourth edition of Bright Futures builds on health promotion themes to support the mental and physical health of children and adolescents, and has a robust framework of evidence underpinning the guidelines, said Dr. Hagan.

The goal is for clinicians to “use evidence to decide upon content of their own health supervision visits,” he explained.

The chapter of the Bright Futures guidelines that addresses the evidence and rationale for the guidelines has been expanded to better answer two questions, said Dr. Hagan: “What evidence grounds our recommendations?” and “What rationale did we use when evidence was insufficient or lacking?”

When possible, the editors of the guidelines used evidence-based sources such as recommendations from the USPSTF , the Centers for Disease Control Community Guide , and the Cochrane Collaboration .

There were many more evidence-based resources available to those working on the 4th edition than there had been when writing the previous edition, when, said Dr. Hagan, the USPSTF had exactly two recommendations for those under the age of 21 years. The current expanded number of USPSTF pediatric recommendations was due in part to the attention the AAP was able to bring to the need for evidence-based recommendations in pediatrics, he said.

When guidelines were not available, the editors also turned to high quality studies from peer reviewed publications. When such high quality evidence was lacking in a particular area, the guidelines make clear what rationale was used to formulate a given recommendation, and that some recommendations should be interpreted with a degree of caution.

And, said Dr. Hagan, even science-based guidelines will change as more data accumulates. “Don’t forget about peanuts!” he said. “It was really logical 15 years ago when we said don’t give peanut products until 1 year of age. And about 2 years ago, we found out that it really didn’t work.”

Although there are specific updates to clinical content, there also were changes made in broader strokes throughout the 4th edition. One of these shifts embeds social determinants of health in many visits. This adjustment acknowledges the growing body of knowledge that “strengths and protective factors make a difference, and risk factors make a difference” in pediatric outcomes.

A greater focus on lifelong physical and mental health is included under the general rubric of promoting lifelong health for families and communities. More emphasis is placed on promoting health for children and youth who have special health care needs as well.

Nuts-and-bolts changes in the updated 4th edition include updates for milestones of development and accompanying developmental surveillance questions, new clinical content and guidance for implementation that have been added based on strong evidence, and a variety of updates for adolescent screenings in particular.

The full 4th edition Bright Futures toolkit will be available for use in early 2018.

Dr. Hagan was a coeditor of the Fourth Edition of Bright Futures.


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