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Choosing the Right mHealth Devices For a Pediatric Telehealth Program

As pediatric healthcare providers develop telehealth programs to replicate the office exam in a patient's home, they need to choose mHealth devices that are reliable and accurate but not complex or intimidating.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Pediatricians see telehealth as an opportunity to replicate the office exam at home – a more comfortable environment for both the child and the parents. But the success of the virtual visit hinges on capturing accurate patient data.

When PM Pediatrics, a New York-based chain of urgent care clinics for children, launched its new telemedicine program earlier this year, officials realized the platform would have to include a mobile health tool capable of capturing data at home. It would have to be easy for parents to use and for children to accept.

“This is often a very anxious experience,” says Dr. Mordechai Raskas, the organization’s Director of Telemedicine and Clinical Informatics. “On top of that, you’re talking about a stinky, messy unknown home environment. … You want to be able to reassure (parents and children) while getting the information that you need.”

As healthcare providers look to extend connected care platforms into the home, one of the biggest challenges they’ll face is making sure the connection between patient and provider is good enough to enable diagnosis and treatment. This doesn’t just mean capturing patient data from connected devices, but finding devices that don’t scare the user.

Raskas, who studied at Harvard Medical School, Texas Children’s Hospital and Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC, says the market is filled with devices for the home setting, both direct-to-consumer and medical-grade, designed for providers to give to their patients. Each device has its own qualities, he says, so it’s up to the provider to find what fits best.

READ MORE: Is Convenience a Problem for Direct-to-Consumer Telehealth Programs?

“You want a quality device that can be used comfortably at home,” he says. “Choose something that you’re comfortable with, and that you know your patients will be comfortable using.”

PM Pediatrics chose the Tytocare mHealth platform for its pilot project, and bought 25 kits for its clinics earlier this year. The kits contain wireless devices that monitor the ears, throat, heart, lungs, abdomen and skin and capture heart rate and temperature data, along with an mHealth app that enables providers to capture that data and conduct a video visit.

Raskas says pediatrics is “a sweet spot” for telehealth and mHealth because of the challenging nature of conducting an exam. Children are rarely comfortable being examined by a doctor – sick or injured children even less so – and their parents are often stressed.

But children are naturally curious, so mHealth devices can capture their attention - as can the doctor on a smartphone, tablet or laptop screen. With that in mind, Raskas says it’s important to choose devices that are rugged and reliable, that can take a beating while capturing and transmitting data. They also should be easy to use and look at, rather than complex or intimidating.

And they need to fit seamlessly into the home environment – easy to store away and take out when needed.

READ MORE: Telemedicine Partnership Envisions an RPM Program Without Devices

Physicians using these platforms should also be mindful of the home environment, Raskas says. The home is a much more comfortable setting for an exam than the doctor’s office or clinic, so it should help to put the patient at ease. And data gathered in that setting might be different than data gathered in the office, where patients might be intimidated or uneasy. That setting will likely affect not only the patient’s health but his or her recovery.

“It’s a new environment for us,” Raskas says. “But there’s a huge amount that we can do in the patient’s home that we can’t do in the office.”

And like the doctor, each parent reacts differently to mHealth. During the pilot project, some weren’t comfortable with the technology and preferred to use the devices at their own pace and send in the results later, Raskas said, while others adapted quickly to the process.

“We even have some families who are so excited about this that they are practicing,” he says.

As PM Pediatrics’ telemedicine pilot moves forward, Raskas expects the program to move beyond just duplicating the office visit, offering new insights into health and wellness. To that end, he’d like to see the telehealth platform integrate with more smart devices in the home, giving providers the opportunity to gather more data on – and interact with - their patients.

READ MORE: American Well CEO: Telehealth Must Integrate With the Home and the Hospital

Eventually, he says, it will become second nature.

“This will not always be a separate modality,” he points out. “Eventually this will just be healthcare.”

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