Telemedicine and children’s health: what you need to know

Children’s Health defines telemedicine as “the use of technology to exchange medical information among providers.” The innovation allows for doctors to discuss patients and their cases together from any two or more places in the country, using video and other electronic communication. Telemedicine is especially promising given rural access to healthcare in the U.S.—and internationally—is often limited. Where there are healthcare facilities, they may lack specialization in areas like pediatric care or mental health.

Several large hospitals in Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston, and soon northern California have integrated telemedicine into their practices. Early studies show patients consider telehealth visits as equal or better than in-person visits, and there is high potential for improving children’s health in particular. For example, teens who see certain mental health physicians throughout high school can continue receiving care from the same familiar face if they move away for college. Another opportunity for telemedicine involves connecting physicians with school nurses, which can hugely benefit diabetic students.

Of course, with any new health technology, there are challenges. Insurance coverage is an ongoing struggle for health innovations in the U.S. and telemedicine is no different. However, in the past two years, legislatures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been working to pass bills requiring insurers to reimburse remote telemedicine care.

Other struggles represent fundamental limitations in telemedicine intervention. Physicians may miss key elements of a patient’s condition when communicating through a screen. For certain diagnoses, patients may have to travel to specialized care centers anyway. Moreover, telemedicine brings up questions of data security and potential privacy breaches with medical data. Finally, telemedicine may bring an incomprehensive quick-fix and/or false sense of resolution to the broader issue of poor rural healthcare access.

For now, telemedicine is offering innovative options for children and teens who need to see their doctors remotely. As more and more hospitals adapt to this new technology, CHIL encourages patients take advantage telemedicine, while continuing to be mindful of its limitations.