Virtual Pediatric Telemedicine vs. Going to The Hospital

Knowing when to take your child to the hospital versus when a virtual pediatric telemedicine visit is sufficient can be difficult. Here’s our tips for how to decide. 

What is Virtual Pediatric Telemedicine?

According to The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), telemedicine is the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance. Remote clinical services enable medical providers to visit patients on a computer with audio/visual capabilities or a smartphone. Virtual pediatric telemedicine is simply directed specifically at caring for children.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has made telemedicine a mainstay for many families and providers, you may be surprised to learn that it has been around in one form or another as far back as 1950 with teleradiology. That type of telemedicine looks nothing like what we recognize today, but it did lay the groundwork. Modern telemedicine has only been widely used in the past decade or so, but it is growing by leaps and bounds because of the COVID virus. 

Just two years ago in 2018, before the pandemic was reported in the U.S., the telemedicine market was worth approximately $38 billion. Relatively few private practice physicians offered it as part of their service, but apps like Doctor on Demand, Teladoc, and Amwell connected patients with virtual doctors through their app.

Fast-forward to today and the market is projected to balloon to $130.5 billion by 2025 and telemedicine patient visits have increased annually by 261 percent between 2015 and 2017. We can assume that number is significantly higher since the pandemic. Two years ago, only 18 percent of physicians used telemedicine; today, approximately 50 percent offer it, including pediatricians. It appears that virtual pediatric telemedicine is here to stay.

Benefits of Virtual Pediatric Telemedicine

For families, virtual pediatric telemedicine provides a safe alternative to taking children to a physical doctor’s office where they could be exposed to COVID or other illnesses. In many cases, remote care is just as effective as in-person care. Your child’s provider will be able to diagnose many conditions, such as conditions related to their skin, throat, eyes, lungs, and abdomen. They can also prescribe medications and treatment regimes, as well as follow up after your initial virtual appointment to monitor progress.

Related: Does Pediatric Telemedicine Work?

The biggest benefit of virtual pediatric telemedicine is convenience. When your child is sick or injured, it can be especially difficult to pack them up and bring them to a doctor’s office. Add in other children you are caring for and the challenge is real. 

Families find it much easier to talk with a provider virtually from the comfort of their own home or anywhere they are that has internet access - even when you are away from home. Your child can remain in their bed or playing with their toys instead of fidgeting, crying, or feeling miserable in a waiting room. You can keep an eye on your other children instead of bringing them along to the doctor’s office or hiring help to watch them while you’re away.

You are also likely to save significant time. Instead of commuting to and from a doctor’s office, waiting in a waiting room and then again in an exam room, you only have to set aside time for the actual virtual appointment. All the waiting is in your home or wherever you happen to be, where you can do other things (or not!) while you wait.

When to Use Telemedicine and When to Go to The Hospital

No matter how many children you have, you’ve likely still have questions about whether you should take your sick or injured child to the hospital, to the doctor’s office or give it more time. Virtual pediatric telemedicine is ideal for these situations, because it allows you to talk with a provider before you make your decision. Unlike calling a nurse hotline, telemedicine enables the provider to see your child to obtain further details in order to make a diagnosis or determine whether the presenting issue is serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room.

Not all providers offer telemedicine appointments and those who do may limit its availability. Concierge pediatricians often make virtual care part of their service offerings, even 24/7 virtual care. This means that when your child wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever or falls off of their bicycle on a Saturday afternoon, you can request a virtual appointment with his or her provider if you deem a hospital visit may not be necessary.

Access to virtual care may or may not come at an additional cost to you. Be sure you talk with your provider to find out how they bill for virtual pediatric telemedicine visits. Some concierge providers build in virtual access into their annual membership fees, giving patients unlimited chat and video visits. They may also accept traditional health insurance, which will often cover 100 percent of telemedicine visits. Again, talk with your provider to find out about their telemedicine options and costs.

Once your provider has a chance to see your child virtually, ask questions, and answer yours, they may determine it is best for you to take your child to the emergency room for more immediate care. They could also recommend an in-home visit. However, many cases can be cared for virtually, at least until your child can be seen in person by a provider. Either way, having direct access to your provider any time from anywhere helps you make a more educated decision, giving you peace of mind you’re doing the right thing by keeping them home.

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