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Parents are gradually accepting and adopting telemedicine for their children’s pediatric visits, according to a new survey by Nemours Children’s Health System released at the American Telemedicine Association conference this week. The survey found that 64 percent of parents polled have used or plan to use telemedicine within the next year for their child, and they are likely to do so for common childhood ailments, such as a cold, pink eye or rash, as well as routine well-child visits. The community health system’s CareConnect program offers 24/7 on-demand pediatric telehealth services to connect families with pediatricians via a smartphone, tablet or computer.
“As awareness of telemedicine services grows, more parents are open to the idea of using these services for their children,” says Carey Officer, administrator for Telemedicine at Nemours. She notes that, compared to a similar study conducted by the health system in 2014, parents’ use of online doctor visits has grown by 125 percent, and their awareness of telemedicine services has increased 88 percent.
“Educating families about the accessibility of telemedicine services has been key to its growth,” says Officer. “We’ve seen that as people, especially the younger generations, become increasingly reliant on technology in their everyday lives, they are becoming comfortable with receiving care online. What’s more, millennial parents, especially, demand convenience, which is creating opportunities for change in the healthcare delivery model.”
With visits available immediately and after hours, convenience is proving to be a large factor spurring an uptick in pediatric telemedicine as parents look for ways to avoid the pressures of securing and making in-office visits. This is particularly important as children spend a large amount of time in doctor visits, with the American Academy of Pediatrics reporting that parents are likely to spend an average of 30 hours on well-child visits during their child’s first five years alone.
For families that have already used telemedicine, the study reflects high satisfaction ratings, with more than 74 percent of parents who have tried telemedicine reporting that the experience was superior to an in-office doctor visit. She adds that at Nemours, patients and families have reported high satisfaction rates when using telepsychiatry services or virtual visits for post-operation surgical follow-ups.
The use and acceptance of telemedicine for pediatrics is on par with other areas of medicine, Nemours notes, with the most use and acceptance in acute care visits.
In the survey, parents were most willing to use telehealth services for colds and flus (58 percent), pink eye (51 percent) and rashes (48 percent). Parents were more reluctant to consider telemedicine to treat chronic conditions, however, with many reporting they would never use virtual visits to treat diabetes (53 percent), asthma (43 percent) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (36 percent).
“Despite this hesitation, previous research published in Pediatrics has shown that these conditions that necessitate chronic care can be effectively treated through telemedicine,” Officer says.
While acceptance in telemedicine is certainly growing, several barriers remain in its continued adoption, including restrictive policy and cost.
“One hurdle that many pediatricians’ offices face is a lack of training with the technology, as well as the costs associated with establishing the service. Reimbursement of these services also remains a huge challenge, as well,” Officer says.
If adoption continues to grow, however, virtual visits could have a marked influence on the healthcare system.
"In a few years, telemedicine will be highly integrated into the practice of medicine and will feel like a normal method of care for physicians and patients. These services will increase accessibility and convenience of care, decrease emergency department and urgent care use, lower healthcare costs and hopefully improve health outcomes," says Officer.