- A six-month study on children with asthma is adding to the growing list of research that telehealth platforms can improve the lives of patients with chronic conditions.
The study, conducted by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), found that children dealing with asthma can be treated just as well in a virtual visit with an allergist as with a visit to the allergist’s office.
The difference? The children and their parents visited their local doctor or a nearby clinic, where they were connected via video to the allergist, rather than traveling hundreds of miles to a specialist’s office.
"All of those seen -- whether in the clinic or by telemedicine -- showed an improvement in asthma control over the six months," Chitra Dinakar, MD, an ACAAI Fellow and study author, told Science Daily. "We were encouraged because sometimes those with the greatest need for an asthma specialist live in underserved areas such as rural or inner-city communities where allergists aren't always available. The study shows these kids can get effective care from a specialist, even if they don't happen to live close to where an allergist practices."
The study was conducted at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, and targeted children who live a considerable distance from the hospital. Those who opted for a telehealth consult were directed to a clinic closer to their homes, where they were joined by a nurse or respiratory therapist and connected via video to the allergist. The clinician on site also had access to a digital stethoscope and digital otoscope.
The experiences of those children and their families compared favorably with another group who visited the allergist in person.
"We found that children seen by telemedicine using real-time video conferencing and digital exam equipment was just as effective as in-person visits," Jay Portnoy, MD, a past ACAAI president and lead author of the study, added. "In addition, there were high levels of satisfaction by the kids and their parents regarding the long-distance care."
The study makes the argument that children dealing with asthma need to be seen by an allergist, who are the best-trained medical specialists to treat their condition. That same argument could be made for patients dealing with any number of chronic conditions. And those specialists are often in short supply and constant demand and located in urban areas.
The hook may lie in patient satisfaction. If people in rural communities are pleased with the experience, they’ll use telehealth for certain services that they can’t get from their local primary care provider, such as the occasional appointment with a chronic care specialist. It’s then up to the local healthcare provider to adopt a telehealth platform and create that link.