Telemedicine for Parents and Pediatric Providers

Ideally, we would continue to see kids in our office when they are sick, but until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, telemedicine is a great alternative to help us keep all of our kids healthy and recognize when they are truly sick, perhaps even needing immediate medical attention.

Many parents and pediatric providers are getting a crash course in telemedicine because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although using virtual visits when kids are sick certainly isn’t a new idea, many things have gotten in the way of making online visits to pediatric offices more popular. Chief among them is the simple fact that most people prefer an in-person, in-office visit.

Telemedicine for Parents and Pediatric Providers

Unfortunately, with the risk of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus, even when kids don’t have symptoms, in-office visits aren’t always possible and certainly aren’t always safe anymore.

That doesn’t mean that your pediatric provider is going to close, as other non-essential businesses are doing.

Newborns, infants, children, and teens still need to be seen for essential preventative care and when they are sick.

Be flexible. Consider modifying your clinical schedule and physical space to minimize risk. Increase capacity to deliver telehealth when possible.”

Sally Goza, MD, FAAP President, American Academy of Pediatrics

Still, we are going to have to change how we provide that care until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Remember, while it is true that kids aren’t thought to be at risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, they likely can still get and spread the spreading SARS-CoV-2 virus.

That’s why most pediatric providers are encouraging patients with fever and respiratory symptoms (URI, cough, runny nose, difficulty breathing) to stay home and are instead moving to phone/virtual consultations.

And with community spread in more and more areas, many are switching to telemedicine visits for any non-essential visit. Is your child due for an ADHD recheck? Do you need to discuss test results or need your pediatrician to look at a rash? Is your child constipated? With the risk of COVID-19, these are all ideal reasons to ask for a telemedicine appointment instead of visiting the office.

“Aetna announced it will offer zero co-pay telemedicine visits nationally for any reason for the next 90 days for all commercial plans. Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, and others have announced similar expansions of telehealth coverage.”

Opportunities To Expand Telehealth Use Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic

Before COVID-19, the simple fact that most insurance companies didn’t pay for telemedicine visits got in the way of there becoming more popular. That’s changed now, as have some laws and regulations (especially HIPAA restrictions) that had previously made it harder to do telemedicine.

Making the Most of Your Telemedicine Visit With Your Pediatric Provider

While some parents likely are excited about doing telemedicine visits, since they can be more convenient than visiting the office, many others probably still have doubts.

However you feel about it, since it is likely that your child might need a telemedicine visit before this is all over, let’s look at how we can all make the most of it.

To start, if possible, make the telemedicine visit with your usual pediatric provider or someone else in their office. Sign their telehealth consent form and review other polices and procedures before your online appointment.

It can also help if, just before the visit, you:

  • weigh your child
  • check your child’s temperature
  • check your child’s heart rate or pulse
  • check your child’s respiratory rate (count the breaths per minute)
  • write down all of the medicines your child has been taking
  • write down all of your child’s symptoms, including how long they have had them and if they are getting better or worse
  • write down how your child’s symptoms are affecting their eating, sleeping, and other activities, for example, are they drinking fluids, playful, consolable, or are they just crying all of the time?
  • write down any questions you have, as you might forget them during the telemedicine visit!
  • make sure you have a flashlight handy in case your provider wants to take a look at your child’s throat. Maybe even practice having them open wide before the visit.

And most importantly, understand how you are going to connect to your pediatric provider for the online visit! Are you using Facetime, Skype, or a website like doxy.me, etc?

Telemedicine Do’s and Don’ts

Are you and your child (yes, you want your child to be with you during the telemedicine visit!) ready for your first telemedicine visit with your pediatric provider?

Do have everything ready at home and be prepared for when your pediatric provider “shows up” to the visit.

It is also a good idea that you:

  • don’t use medical terminology, like lethargic (is your child really hard to wake up?), dehydrated (just mention the last time your child urinated, etc.), or say that your child is having trouble breathing (is your child breathing fast and hard or having trouble catching their breath?) – instead, just describe what your child is doing and how they are acting, which, since it is a telemedicine visit, your provider will actually get to see for themselves!
  • don’t say that you can’t control your child’s fever, if what you really mean is that it goes back up after their fever reducer wears off, and remember that fever is typically just a symptom, like a cough or runny nose, and not a sign of how sick your child is
  • don’t ask for or expect a prescription, especially for an antibiotic, just because you had an online visit with your provider. Studies have found high rates of antibiotic prescribing during telemedicine visits, especially for kids with respiratory infections, and that hopefully won’t continue as telehealth becomes more popular.
  • avoid sitting in a dark or noisy room, as that will make it harder for your provider to see and hear you

And at the end of the visit, make sure you understand your child’s diagnosis, recommendations for treatment, and most importantly, don’t forget to ask when you should expect that your child should begin to get better and the signs to look for that might indicate that they are getting worse.

“We recognize we are all practicing pediatrics in circumstances we have never encountered before in our careers.”

Sally Goza, MD, FAAP President, American Academy of Pediatrics

Are there limits to telemedicine?

Sure.

We can’t sew up a cut that needs stitches, for example, but you know what? If your child falls and cuts themselves, we can do a telemedicine visit to let you know if they do need stitches, maybe saving you a visit to the office or the ER.

Ideally, we would continue to see kids in our office when they are sick, but until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, telemedicine is a great alternative to help us keep all of our kids healthy and recognize when they are truly sick, perhaps even needing immediate medical attention.

More on Telemedicine for Parents and Pediatricians

Author: Vincent Iannelli, MD

Vincent Iannelli, MD