Screening Tests: Frequently Asked Questions

If the doctor says my child needs to be “screened” for something, does that mean my child is sick?

No. It means the doctor is only checking for a possible health problem. A screening test is usually a quick exam, lab test, measurement or some questions you will be asked. Doctors screen to look for early signs of a health problem. Whenever screening tests show that there may be a health problem, a child will need more tests or to visit a specialist to see if there is a real health problem or any other conditions.

If test results or a specialist find a health problem, your doctor will talk to you and your child about how to help or fix the condition. Together, you will decide what is needed to keep your child as healthy as possible. Whatever the nature of your child’s medical condition, your doctor will help you decide on treatment that will keep your child as healthy as possible – whether that treatment includes prescription drugs, therapy, or something as simple as exercising and eating healthier. The earlier you learn there is a problem, the sooner you can take steps to make it better, before the condition gets worse or causes more problems.

Can I ask my doctor to do a special screen or test for my child?

Yes. Parents can recommend their child to receive selective screens, which are given only to children who are at risk for certain conditions. If you are worried that your child is at risk because he or she is acting a certain way or showing symptoms of a certain health issue, you should talk about it with your child’s doctor. As a result, a selective screening would be done. For example, if you were worried because your child spent time with a relative who has developed tuberculosis (TB), and you want to know whether your child was exposed to TB, your doctor will most likely screen your child for TB.

universal screening is when all children need a certain kind of screening at a certain age. For example:

  • All children should have a physical exam at each checkup.
  • In NJ, lead poisoning is common. All children covered by NJ FamilyCare for wellness checkups should be tested for lead between the ages of 1 and 2 years old – and up to age 6 if they missed early testing.

Even for universal screens, your concerns or reports about your child’s behavior are always welcome and valuable. For example, if you notice that your usually calm, well-behaved child is suddenly having tantrums/outbursts or if he or she is acting quiet/withdrawn instead of his/her usual outgoing self, you should tell your child’s doctor. These changes in behavior may be a sign of a health problem.

What does it mean for a child to be "at risk?"

"At risk" means a child has a higher chance of having a health problem than most other children their age. Conditions or situations that put a child at risk are called “risk factors." A few examples of children’s risk factors include their family history (some illnesses run in families), a chronic disease (a health issue that is long-lasting, like diabetes), poor nutrition, and peer pressure to use drugs. Children at high risk of having a problem get selective screens. A doctor reviews all a child’s risks to decide if a screen is needed.

My first baby is due soon. None of my prenatal tests have shown that my baby has any problems. I am worried, though, because I have a friend who unexpectedly had a child with a genetic disease. Can I talk to a pediatrician about my concerns for my baby? I am also just nervous about becoming a new parent.

Yes. You can schedule a prenatal visit with a pediatrician to talk about your concerns. If it is possible for both parents to be present for the visit, it would be helpful. You both will be asked to complete a health history form with your family history. The doctor might also talk about screens for genetic health problems that all newborns are given before they leave the hospital, and about screens offered during checkups as your baby grows. After the doctor tells you what can be done to find any problems early, he or she will most likely suggest that you try not to worry, since worrying is not good for your health. Instead, think about how great it will be to meet your new baby.

Visit the Horizon NJ Health Provider Directory online or call Horizon NJ Health Member Services toll-free at 1-800-682-9090 (TTY 711) to find a pediatrician in your area.

My baby is 1 month old and very healthy. Why should I take him/her to a doctor?

When you take your child to scheduled wellness visits, the doctor will do exams to be sure that your child is meeting developmental milestones – things most children can do at certain ages. The doctor will give your child vaccines to prevent very serious health problems and will also screen for certain issues based on your child’s age. Screenings during wellness visits can find any hidden problems and treat them. Treatments that start in childhood can help health issues that could lead to serious problems later in life.