Madison, Wisconsin – An innovative program that “prescribes” book-sharing in families with young children will be expanded to all UW Health pediatric and family medicine clinics. The number of UW Health clinics that will offer Reach Out and Read will increase from the initial 10 to 28 locations. At this time, the program is up and running in 19 clinics. In the remaining clinics, training and implementation continues.
“UW Health’s decision to fund the initiative in all pediatric and family medicine clinics is huge,” said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, UW Health pediatrician and medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. “UW Health recognizes that the cognitive health of children is critical for their lifelong health and an important part of how we provide care. As I like to say, ‘Books build better brains’.”
Reach Out and Read trains and supports clinicians who provide books to children ages six months through five years during well-child visits. Fifteen independent, peer-reviewed, published studies show that children who participate in Reach Out and Read have language scores three to six months ahead of peers who are not exposed to the program.
UW Health has committed $70,000 to the program including the purchase of 32,000 books.
Navsaria said handing a book to a child can be a better clinical tool than a laundry list of questions for parents during well-child visits.
While giving the book, clinicians carefully and intentionally watch to see what the child does with the book and the response and interaction by the family as a way to assess development and the health of the relationship between children and caregivers.
“I learn a lot about children aged 18 months and older in just a few seconds by handing them a developmentally, culturally and language-appropriate book,” said Navsaria. “Depending on how they react to and handle the book, I’ve learned several things about that child’s development and whether they are exposed to reading.”
Physicians and nurse practitioners receive online training before they begin implementing Reach Out and Read to help them implement it in a high-quality way. More than a mere book giveaway, the program leverages the trusted relationship between parents and their child’s health care provider to support, encourage, and promote activities which positively spur good brain development.
Navsaria said that the American Academy of Pediatrics last year issued a policy statement that recommended that health care providers encourage families to share books with their young children beginning from birth.
“Encouraging children to read is just as important as vision checks and immunizations,” said Navsaria. “If I had to pick, I’d rather walk into a clinic visit without a stethoscope than a book. It’s not just a book. It’s a medical tool, an intervention and source of delight, all in one.”