Estimating the cost of developmental and behavioral screening of preschool children in general pediatric practice

Deborah Dobrez*, Anthony Lo Sasso, Jane Holl, Madeleine Shalowitz, Scott Leon, Peter Budetti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Objective. Despite increased recognition of the importance of development and growth of young children, formal developmental and behavioral screening often is not included in general pediatric practice. Barriers to the provision of developmental and behavioral screening are considerable; among them are the need for specialized training and uncertain reimbursement. This article develops a model for estimating the cost of providing pediatric developmental and behavioral screening that can be scaled to reflect a pediatric practice's patient population and choice of screening offered. Methods. The framework for our scaleable cost model was drawn from work done in estimating the Resource-Based Relative Value Scale (RBRVS). RBRVS provides estimates of the work effort involved in the provision of health care services for individual Current Procedural Terminology codes. The American Academy of Pediatrics has assigned descriptions of pediatric services, including developmental and behavioral screening, to the Current Procedural Terminology codes originally created for adult health care services. The cost of conducting a screen was calculated as a function of the time and staff required and was loaded for practice costs using the RBRVS valuation. The cost of the follow-up consultation was calculated as a function of the time and staff required and the number of relative value units assigned in the RBRVS scale. Results. The practice cost of providing developmental and behavioral screening is driven primarily by the time and staff required to conduct and evaluate the screens. Administration costs are lowest for parent-administered developmental screens ($0 if no assistance is required) and highest ($67) for lengthy, pediatric provider-administered screens, such as the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale. The costs of 3 different groups of developmental and behavioral screening are estimated. The estimated per-member per-month cost per 0- to 3-year-old child ranges from $4 to >$7 in our 3 examples. Conclusions. Cost remains a significant barrier to greater provision of formal developmental and behavioral screening. Our scaleable cost model may be adjusted for a given practice to account for the overall level of developmental risk. The model also provides an estimate of the time and cost of providing new screening services. This model allows pediatric practices to select the mix of developmental screens most appropriate for their particular patient population at an acceptable cost.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)913-922
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • CPT codes
  • Cost
  • Development screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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