Data has shown that children need mental healthcare, especially as we emerge from the pandemic that proved emotionally difficult for many youngsters. However, in non-urban areas particularly, there are not enough pediatric psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists to address the needs of young people. As a pediatrician, you can be the first point of contact for families — a buoy for a child in the tumultuous waters of mental and behavioral health problems.
You may be nodding and thinking, “Yes, let’s get these children into the office, so I can help them!” However, for lots of families, telehealth is a better option for mental health services. This strategy has been so successful, it’s garnered its own term: Telemental health. In this blog, we’re exploring why you should offer pediatric telemental visits and providing five tips on how to implement this important service.
Why Offer Pediatric Telemental Health Services?
In general, telehealth has many benefits. It means you’re available to your patients, keeping them in the medical home. Telemedicine also has the advantage of accessibility; families can see you on their phones, tablets, or home computers. Not having to miss work or school drastically reduces transportation challenges and financial frustrations. But providing pediatric telemental services has additional benefits, so let’s take a look at three.
Although seeking mental healthcare has become more common and acceptable in our culture, there is often still a stigma associated with asking for and receiving help. Children who are developing and might be subject to gossip or bullying are especially sensitive to others’ opinions about their mental health needs. A child-friendly telemental health setting, such as your pediatric practice, may reduce perceived stigma associated with mental health. Plus, research indicates that implementing telemental health services in community settings allows for primary care providers to notice contextual factors involved in youths’ behavior and mental health needs.
Familiarity with Videoconferencing Technology
It’s no secret that many families use video technology, like FaceTime or Skype, for social purposes. In fact, video conferencing became a lifeline or sorts during the pandemic, increasing almost everyone’s familiarity with the technology. Add in statistics from the Pew Research Center, and it’s clear that telemental health is a good fit with youth. Data shows that 73 percent of American teens have smartphones. Experts anticipate that increased accessibility to and familiarity with videoconferencing will only continue to boost comfort around telemental health.
Increased Confidence and Comfort
When patients see you virtually, they are usually in their own environment, like a living room, bedroom, or even dorm room. Being comfortable in their personal space often decreases self-consciousness. For many young people, this boosts confidence and helps them talk freely and honestly about their mental health struggles. In addition, some adolescents are more comfortable with video appointments because of the privacy they have by staying home. They report feeling like virtual care is more confidential, eliminating the worry that someone will recognize them at the doctor’s office and wonder why they are being seen.
What Types of Mental Health Visits are Appropriate for Pediatric Telemedicine?
As you consider offering telemental health services, it’s important to think about what types of visits are conducive to virtual care. Here are some suggestions:
- Treatment of ADHD
- Evaluation of autism and other developmental disabilities
- Discussion of behavioral health problems, such as eating disorders or substance abuse
- Determination of abuse and trauma
- Care for young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer
- Support for children and adolescents with diverse gender identities
Telemental health visits are also appropriate as you continue to support all pediatric patients, including young adults throughout their early 20s until they transition to adult primary care services.
What Do I Need to Know About Implementing Telemental Services for Children?
Before onboarding pediatric telemental health, it’s crucial to plan for the administrative and clinical aspects of this endeavor. Some important steps include:
- Conducting a needs assessment;
- Investigating insurance coverage and applicable medical codes;
- Training administrative staff and clinicians;
- Reviewing legal and regulatory issues; and
- Assessing technology and upgrading it, if necessary.
5 Tips for Conducting Pediatric Telemental Health Visits
When you and your patients are ready to meet via video encounter, there are some nuances that come with telemental healthcare. Here are five tips for ensuring your virtual appointments are successful.
- Meet families where they are. Consider the developmental and emotional state of the youngsters you’re seeing and allow them to voice what they need. This is especially helpful for children and caregivers who are navigating a crisis, multiple stressors, racism, and poverty.
- Ensure security. A HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform, like what we offer through Anytime Pediatrics, will have strong encryption, access controls, self-audit, and authorization protocols.
- Protect confidentiality. Direct families to their patient portal, where they can use a secure login. Adolescents and young adults should have credentials that are separate from their parents. In addition to a secure electronic messaging option, you should also ensure all communication is confidential. This means not disclosing sensitive information to caregivers in explanation of benefits letters.
- Develop rapport. Ask about the patient’s pronouns and then use them consistently. Embrace diversity and be aware of needs based on age, sex, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status. Offer to help with any technological difficulties that families encounter, such as in the portal or telehealth platform.
- Make location suggestions. While it’s important to provide high-quality care no matter what the patient’s living conditions, it’s OK to recommend a change in the physical space. Some examples include increased lighting to help with your evaluation, simpler décor to decrease distractions, or the addition of supplies, like paper, crayons or toys.
For more information about providing telemental health, check out this free, online course from the American Academy of Pediatrics: https://shop.aap.org/using-telehealth-to-support-mental-health-care-in-pediatrics/. It covers telehealth to support the mental well-being of children and adolescents as part of the medical home model of care.
How Can Anytime Pediatrics Help with Telemental Health Services?
Are you interested in adding telemental health services into your pediatric practice? The children in your community will benefit from the high-quality mental healthcare you can offer through Anytime Pediatrics. Our HIPAA-compliant technology has everything you need to implement or upgrade video visits! Contact us today to request a consultation.