Rural Disparities in Early Childhood Well Child Visit Attendance

Published:December 26, 2020DOI:


      • Young children (ages 1–5) living in rural Virginia attend fewer well child visits than their urban counterparts
      • Variability in well child visit attendance rates can be detected using an estimate of the developed land in the zip code.
      • Covid-19 may further impact rural children's access to developmental screenings because of limited access to telemedicine.



      Children should attend well child visits (WCVs) during early childhood so that developmental disorders may be identified as early as possible, so treatment can begin. The aim of this research was to determine if rurality impacts access to WCV during early childhood, and if altering rurality measurement methods impacts outcomes.

      Design and methods

      We utilized a longitudinal correlational design with early childhood data gathered from the Virginia All Payer Claims Database, which contains claims data from Medicaid and the majority of Virginia commercial insurance payers (n = 6349). WCV attendance was evaluated against three rurality metrics: a traditional metric using Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes, a developed land variable, and a distance to care variable, at a zip code level.


      Two of the rurality methods revealed that rural children attend fewer WCVs than their urban counterparts, (67% vs. 50% respectively, using a traditional metric; and a 0.035 increase in WCV attendance for every percent increase in developed land). Differences were attenuated by insurance payer; children with Medicaid attend fewer WCVs than those with private insurance.


      Young children in rural Virginia attend fewer WCVs than their non-rural counterparts, placing them at higher risk for missing timely developmental disorder screenings. The coronavirus disease pandemic has been associated with an abrupt and significant reduction in vaccination rates, which likely indicates fewer WCVs and concomitant developmental screenings. Pediatric nurses should encourage families of young children to develop a plan for continued WCVs, so that early identification of developmental disorders can be achieved.


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