IMAGE: Parents share preferences for children’s doctor visits in a new national survey. view month
Credit: CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Health at the University of Michigan.
ANN TREE, me. – For children, the pandemic rules have meant virtual schooling, vacationing above Zoom, and for some, even seeing the doctor from home.
One in five parents in a new national survey says their child had a virtual medical visit over the past year, whether for checkups, minor illnesses, mental health or follow-up, a noticeable increase in care remote to children.
And while some parents still have reservations about using telemedicine for their children, most were pleased with the experience, suggest findings from the CS Mott Children’s Hospital’s National Child Health Survey at the University of Michigan .
“COVID has had a significant impact on the delivery of health care to children, both for routine checkups and for disease visits,” says Mott Poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Gary L. Freed, MD, MPH
“We have seen a massive expansion of virtual care, but this experience is especially new for parents who relied primarily on face-to-face pediatric visits. Our survey looked at how parents have experienced this evolution in children’s health.”
The nationally representative survey is based on the responses of 2,002 parents of children under the age of 18 in January 2021.
Factors affecting virtual care for children
A strong factor in the increase in pediatric video visits may have been the only option for some parents during much of the COVID-19 pandemic. About half of parents with children who used telemedicine were not offered a face-to-face option, as providers limited office visits due to safety issues for families and health care teams. Instead, many began to offer or expand their capacity for pediatric virtual care.
However, for one in three parents who chose virtual care, security and reduced exposure to the virus were the main reason. Another third of parents chose virtual tours for convenience.
“For busy parents, a virtual visit reduces the burden of travel time to the appointment and minimizes time out of work or school,” Freed says.
And while these interactions with the video doctor were the first for many parents, nine out of ten were pleased with the visit and felt that all of their questions were answered.
However, some parents still doubt the use of telemedicine for children, citing factors such as technological problems.
One in four parents is concerned about the technical problems of virtual visits, being a more common concern among lower-income parents.
“To move forward we want to make sure that technological gaps don’t exacerbate disparities in care,” Freed says. “Providers should provide clear directions and technical support for families using virtual tours.
“Systems and policies that provide access to necessary and reliable technology will be essential to avoid inequity in the availability and use of virtual care.”
Parents who are unable to connect through a video visit may begin with a telephone consultation, he says, but should be prepared to take their child on a face-to-face visit if necessary.
One in four parents surveyed still saw a provider in person after a virtual tour. This could be because the provider wanted to examine the child or because of the need for additional services, such as vaccines or lab tests, Freed notes.
Future of electronic visits for children
Families ’main concerns about virtual tours are that the provider would not be as thorough as they would be in person or that it would be too difficult to address their children’s problem virtually, according to the Mott Poll.
However, about half of parents would be fine with a virtual visit for mental health issues or minor illness. If parents decide to try a mental health-related virtual visit, experts recommend scheduling it when a child is less likely to have “zoom fatigue” and not be too late, which can make concentration and communication difficult.
In contrast, most parents prefer face-to-face visits for reviews (77%) and only 23% are okay with a virtual option. Similarly, 74% prefer a face-to-face visit with a specialist, and 26% say they are fine with virtual visits.
For parents who may be hesitant about virtual visits, experts recommend trying it first with a non-urgent issue, such as a question about sleep or eating, Freed says.
“We expect remote visits to continue to expand for pediatric patients long after the pandemic,” Freed says. “Parents should test the virtual visits to determine if they believe the provider can understand the child’s symptoms or condition and feel comfortable asking questions in virtual format.”
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