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Could Telehealth Technologies Improve Pediatric Care?

By Vera Gruessner

- Telehealth technologies may reduce healthcare costs and offer more flexible solutions for patients who live in rural areas or are unable to travel. Telemedicine services could serve a wide variety of patient populations from elderly citizens and disabled individuals to patients with chronic medical conditions or even children. The Lucille Packard Foundation for Children’s Health released a report today called “Realizing the Promise of Telehealth for Children with Special Health Care Needs.” 

Telemedicine Technology Solutions

This report describes the obstacles as well as successes of using telehealth technologies to offer healthcare services in the pediatric field among children with special needs. There are currently 1.4 million children with special healthcare needs in the state of California alone. The report provides advice and tips for healthcare providers in the state of California to adopt telehealth technologies into the pediatric space in order to improve the quality of healthcare among children and youth.

“When a parent has a child with special health care needs, they should be able to get the necessary care in a timely manner and at an affordable cost, regardless of their location,” Jacob Vigil, Senior Program Associate at The Children’s Partnership, said in a company press release. “The increased use of video conferencing, remote patient monitoring through smart phones, and other technology applications would make it possible for more children to get care they may otherwise go without, right in their own communities. Through expanded outreach to families and providers, and increased incentives for participation, we hope to make this a reality.”

One healthcare delivery system called Children with Special Health Care Need (CSHCN) accounts for one out of every seven children in this sunny state, according to the release. These children often need a multitude of specialists, therapists, and strong care coordination across the medical teams.

However, in various places, there are currently provider shortages or potentially a lack of specialists for particular conditions. Many parents and caregivers may also have difficulty providing transportation for their children on a regular basis.

To solve these issues, telehealth technologies would allow families to speak with a specialist or primary care physician by phone and video to receive diagnostic and treatment services. Drug prescriptions and refills, for instance, could be handled with the help of telehealth technologies instead of requiring parents and children to drive to a hospital or urgent care clinic.

Telehealth technologies can help overcome many barriers in pediatric care and even offer timely services that could improve the health outcomes of children with special needs. As the healthcare field continues to advance by implementing new devices and medical tools, patient outcomes will likely be improved through digital capabilities and virtual care.

“Telehealth has proven to be an effective tool in making the types of specialized care and coordination needed by CSHCN more accessible,” stated James Marcin, MD, MPH, Medical Director of Pediatric Telemedicine at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “Through our programs, we’ve seen expanded access to services that previously required families to drive six or more hours.”

The report also showed that there are five key barriers to telehealth technologies healthcare providers will need to overcome. These five obstacles include: (1) providers’ inexperience with billing and utilizing telehealth technologies, (2) families and patients’ lack of knowledge about the capabilities of telemedicine, (3) the inability for providers to bill for certain services offered through telemedicine solutions, (4) high costs and resources for maintaining and establishing telehealth technologies, and (5) potential patient privacy and security risks.

“Where appropriate, providers and families should have the option to utilize telehealth to address health care and other support needs. The study helps convey an important message for the State to educate and train providers on using telehealth and to educate families about telehealth as an option for care,” Mario Gutierrez, Executive Director of The Center for Connected Health Policy, said in a public statement.

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