Pediatricians use phone and video visits with patients as a safe complement to office visits
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, pediatricians realized they were going to need more ways to connect safely with their patients. With a sense of urgency, pediatricians quickly turned to telehealth, a valuable tool that allowed them to meet virtually with patients over phones, laptops and computers.
Now, an AAP initiative on telehealth, funded with a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), offers new resources to help families and caregivers make the most out of telehealth with their pediatrician. The collection includes new articles and videos on HealthyChildren.org, the Academy’s website for parents, focusing on the “101” of using telehealth for pediatric visits, unique considerations for adolescents using telehealth to talk with their pediatricians, and information on how to use telehealth for mental health care. Pediatricians are finding that children are more relaxed in a home environment – making mental health visits especially effective.
“As a pediatrician and parent, I am glad to see telehealth emerge as a solution to some of the challenges families have had in accessing health care,” said Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP, president of the AAP. “Sometimes a video or phone chat with your pediatrician is a good place to start. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we must find creative ways to prioritize what’s important to us –starting with our children’s health.”
Guidance for families and caregivers now posted on HealthyChildren.org offers more background on when a telehealth visit is a good option, and when they may need to go in person. Pediatricians may use telehealth as a first step to help evaluate children showing cold symptoms; vomiting and diarrhea; to refill a prescription; or examine a rash or pinkeye. Families concerned about a child’s mental and emotional health have used telehealth for counseling, reassurance and referrals.
“Whether parents and caregivers are worried about a new issue or would like a follow up for an established problem, they may be able to schedule a video visit or phone call, or connect to their pediatrician online” said David McSwain, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Section on Telehealth. “Of course, some pediatric care like immunizations will need to be done in person, but for many things, from a runny nose, to changes in sleep habits, to help managing chronic conditions like asthma, telehealth can be a great way to stay connected with your pediatrician.”
When considering telehealth for children, AAP recommends:
- Telehealth visits with pediatricians or other specialists should be coordinated through the child’s pediatric office.
- Use of telehealth should be based on the medical condition; preferences of the patients, families or caregivers and the pediatrician; and access to technology resources.
- Additional needs such as interpreters, tools for accessibility and requirements for confidentiality should be discussed with the pediatric office prior to the visit.
- A parent or caregiver should be present for the visit and give adolescents one-on-one time with the pediatrician. They should be available by phone during visits with young adults who can consent to their own care.
In an April 2020 survey of members by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 77% of pediatricians surveyed reported they were using telehealth as part of their practice. Of this group, 85% reported they had never used telehealth before. Hospitals, emergency services and even some schools have begun using telehealth as a quick way to communicate with families, caregivers, patients, pediatricians and nonphysician clinicians.
In support of telehealth as a complement to in-person visits, the AAP is developing additional educational modules for pediatricians, pediatric specialists and nonphysician clinicians as part of the initiative, with support from HRSA. The AAP is also collaborating with Family Voices, a national family-led organization of families and friends of children and youth with special health care needs and disabilities, who has also developed a telehealth curriculum with support from a 2020 CARES Act grant from HRSA.
“Telehealth is developing into a valuable tool for families and we join the AAP in encouraging its exploration.” said Cara Coleman, Program Manager, Family Voices.
AAP resources include:
HealthyChildren.org articles for families/caregivers
Telehealth 101: Get Plugged in to Your Child’s Health
- Telehealth Can Enhance Mental Health Care
- Teens & Telehealth
- Telehealth Visits for Children Who Need Hearing or Vision Help
- Ask the Pediatrician: Can telehealth “video visits” be a good option for my child? How do they work?
- Telehealth Starts with Your Pediatrician
AAP Podcast: “Pediatrics On Call”
- David McSwain, MD, MPH, FAAP, explains how telehealth has evolved during the pandemic and what to expect next with hosts David Hill, MD, FAAP, and Joanna Parga-Belinkie, MD, FAAP. The podcast covers questions about equity, reimbursement and protecting patient confidentiality when it comes to virtual visits. Telehealth During COVID-19, Bariatric Surgery in Adolescents – Episode 44 (aap.org)