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UNC Pediatrics Program Takes Healthy Step Forward

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A baby's visit to the pediatrician may cure their ills, but new parents often leave without all the information they need to keep their child healthy and happy. Pediatric practices of the future may help new parents do a better job.

On visits to University of North Carolina Hospital's pediatric clinic, Melissa Thompson's 4-month-old daughter sees a nurse, a doctor and Healthy Steps specialist Karen Wysocki.

Wysocki will track Calina's first three years of development and offer her mother information and advice.

"I like to get advice on how I can help make everything better for her," Thompson said.

UNC Hospitals is continuing its Healthy Steps model program, even though the national research study for which it was created has ended.

Results of the three-year study, published last month in the

Journal of the American Medical Association

, found participating families were more likely to follow through on well child visits and immunizations.

Those families were also less likely to use severe discipline or place babies on their stomachs while sleeping, putting them at a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

"Parenting is a hard thing, you know. It's not that you're going to do this perfectly, but this kind of an intervention shows that with some guidance you can do it better," said Dr.Rebecca Socolar, research study investigator.

Socolar said pediatricians often cannot spend enough one-on-one time with new parents. Two full-time Healthy Steps specialists are filling that gap.

"This allows a little bit more time and focus, particularly on behavioral issues like sleep, toilet training, and discipline," she said.

The added cost for the clinic is paid for through a private endowment. If the model is used in other practices, Socolar said insurance companies would have to agree to help, because many families are not able to shoulder the extra expense.

"It helps me out a lot while taking care of her," Thompson said.

UNC pediatric clinics only enroll families in their Healthy Steps program whose babies are born at UNC Hospitals.


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