For parents, telehealth (a.k.a. virtual care) is a gamechanger, because it makes healthcare more accessible and, often, more affordable. Thanks to modern technology – websites and apps on the software side of things and smart phones, tablets, desktops, and medical devices on the hardware side – telehealth makes it possible for you to connect with a provider anytime, anywhere. It gives doctors the ability to look in your child’s ears, listen to their lungs, and inspect that itchy rash, all from the comfort of home.
Yes, with no need to schedule an office visit or get in the car, virtual care is a gamechanger. BUT, before you jump in, you need to make sure you’re getting the quality and specialized care your child needs and deserves. Before choosing a telehealth provider, you should ask these questions:
Where can I find the best virtual care? The best medical care for your child is going to come from your regular pediatrician, so begin by asking him or her if they offer telehealth. If they do, wonderful! They should be able to guide you in accessing services. If they don’t, you’ll want to seek care from a telehealth service that specializes in pediatrics, rather than just heading to the retail clinic or urgent care down the road. Your pediatrician should be able to point you in the right direction.
Because not all telehealth services are created equal, when considering a virtual care provider, you’ll also want to ask if:
• The providers are trained to treat children. Children are not small adults. They have special needs and should receive care from pediatricians who are trained and experienced in diagnosing and treating kids. You’ll also want to make sure your telehealth provider is board certified and, when possible, local.
• The information collected and decisions made during your virtual visit be shared with your regular pediatrician. If your preferred pediatrician is not seeing your child, you’ll want to make sure all details of the virtual visit are shared with his / her office as soon as possible. This assures your child’s medical record remains complete and current. It also enables your regular pediatrician to follow up, as needed.
• Your virtual visit – and the information collected as a part of it – will be secure. When connecting with a telehealth provider, you’ll want to assure the technology is secure and that all information is protected in accordance with HIPAA compliance standards.
• The providers can write prescriptions and / or provide a note for your child’s school. While virtual care providers may not be able to diagnose or treat every condition, they should be able to prescribe medications to treat conditions like pink eye and simple skin rashes. They should also be able to provide practical guidance (like tips on keeping your child hydrated, managing cold symptoms, and monitoring a fever), as well as get you a note for school, if needed. (Note: If your child’s needs are more complex – requiring lab tests, a comprehensive physical exam, etc. – you’ll likely be referred to an in-person care setting.)
But the most important thing to remember? When in doubt, always talk to your child’s regular pediatrician. Whether you’re pondering a virtual care provider or anything else pertaining to your child’s health and well-being, your first phone call should always be to your pediatrician’s office.