If you had to guess which group used telemedicine the most, what would your answer be?
If you guessed mothers, you are correct. According to CNBC, telemedicine leaders report that women and mothers make up the majority of their customers. There’s no mystery why – children get sick a lot. Kids younger than 15 years old in the United States have an estimated 71 million office visits annually. These traditional office visits often force parents to miss time from work, which can be an immense burden for parents of chronically ill children.
Telemedicine helps parents and children in several ways. It’s often quicker than trying to schedule an in-office visit, more convenient for parents juggling work and family demands, and can mean a faster treatment cycle. If her son wakes up with a sore throat or ear ache, a mother can quickly arrange a virtual visit with a pediatrician, who assesses if her son can go to school and prescribe an antibiotic, if needed. She can pick up the prescription on her way to work or keep her child home, minimizing classroom contagion. Many of the struggles inherent in scheduling a traditional visit are gone.
This means telemedicine offers a profitable opportunity for pediatricians – but most aren’t taking advantage of it.
Telemedicine Opportunities and Obstacles
Many young mothers are comfortable with virtual health because they use telemedicine during their pregnancies. Some women with low-risk pregnancies will measure their weight, blood pressure and do a urine analysis at home and then report to their obstetrician. Because these video visits take just a few minutes, reducing the number of office trips, many mothers realize the benefits of telemedicine first-hand before their child is born.
Yet when they try to connect virtually with their child’s pediatrician, many of these women realize their options are limited to Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) telehealth vendors. Instead of their child continuing an ongoing relationship with their medical home, they have to see unfamiliar providers through video kiosks. This fragments the child’s documented medical history into episodic visits with providers who don’t speak to each other.
Obviously, some parents still find value in DTC telehealth. A mother may be quickly looking for reassurance that her daughter’s flu symptoms aren’t meningitis. But for chronic issues like ear infections, DTC is really just a stop-gap. Later, when the pediatrician assesses if the child needs a more extreme intervention such as ear tubes, they’ll need a complete medical history to make the right decision – and DTC visits often represent a blind spot.
5 Benefits to Pediatric Telemedicine
Today’s evidence-based telemedicine can treat children with a variety of medical needs. Children with asthma, diabetes, congenital cardiac conditions, epilepsy or behavioral needs and other conditions can be great candidates for telemedicine. Reimbursement laws have also become friendlier to providers, while many parents are willing to pay telemedicine visit fees out of pocket.
Yet some providers have hesitated to adopt virtual health for pediatric care – despite modern telemedicine assisting with these challenges:
- Providers can reduce waiting room crowds and see a higher number of patients. Specialists can reduce their travel to satellite clinics, boosting productivity.
- When pediatric patients are in hospitals lacking specialists, telemedicine can connect those patients to remote pediatric expertise – and reduce unnecessary transports. Children can stay in their own communities, helping parents balance their commitments to their other children.
- Virtual communication can enhance care coordination and collaboration with other providers and help involve families to a stronger degree – especially when children are at child care centers, schools or summer camps. Parents can quickly be virtually present when a student is injured during sports practice or feels sick in class.
- Children in rural and other medically underserved regions can receive faster preventive care; emergency department doctors can remotely consult with specialists and pharmacies for enhanced evaluation of pediatric patients.
- School-based health centers can work with pediatricians to connect disadvantaged children to ongoing care. These centers are using telemedicine for a range of services, including behavioral counseling, nutritional education, vision and dental care, and monitoring of chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma.
Launching a Virtual Pediatric Practice
Most mothers of young children today grew up in a world of digital conveniences and virtual communication. They expect to find modern tools and technologically savvy providers in their children’s medical journey. Pediatricians who offer telemedicine now can open a new revenue stream and increase their visibility into their patients’ needs. They can also develop more enduring relationships with the families who trust them as the demand for virtual care continues to rise.