What to Know About Telehealth With a Pediatrician

Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room with a sick child has always been unpleasant. Fortunately, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many physicians, including pediatricians, are embracing telehealth for evaluating and managing minor illnesses and injuries. Conditions like ear infections, a sprained ankle, and the common cold can be diagnosed and treated through a telehealth visit with a pediatrician.

Telehealth utilizes technology such as smartphones, tablets, and computers to provide care, and it can make keeping your children healthy easier and more convenient. It can also help people who live in remote areas access care for their children. However, serious health problems still require a visit to the pediatrician’s office, and there are certain barriers that could make telehealth not a good fit for someone’s needs. Telehealth should also never replace regular well-child visits and immunizations. 

Close up of a father and daughter having a video call with their doctor

Geber86 / Getty Images

When to Use Telehealth With a Pediatrician 

Telehealth appointments are not meant to replace well-child visits but rather fill in the gaps between those regular exams. Telehealth may be an option when: 

  • Meeting with a specialist after being referred for care by your pediatrician 
  • Your child has developed a rash or side effect to a new medication
  • Your doctor has requested updates on your child’s status

Common health conditions that many pediatricians can evaluate and treat via telehealth include:

Your child may need to be seen in person if:

  • Your child is due for their annual well check-up
  • Your child is due for a vaccine
  • Your pediatrician suspects strep throat and needs to perform a test
  • Your child has a possible urinary tract infection and needs to provide a urine sample
  • You’re concerned your child has broken a bone
  • Your child has a cut that may require stitches
  • Your child develops a high fever

Benefits and Challenges

Pediatric telehealth services are starting to become more common because of their convenience and health benefits.

Care for Underserved Communities

Telehealth visits can also increase access to care for communities that have been underserved in the past, such as rural and central city locations. Those without access to specialized pediatric care or transportation can have their children seen by providers from a distance. 

More Convenient for Parents

A 2020 study found that incorporating telehealth services into pediatric care led to improved patient and family satisfaction, cost savings, fewer emergency room visits, and less time off work for parents. Less time off of work is a huge benefit for parents, especially during the pandemic when work and school are often happening simultaneously at home. 

It’s estimated that children younger than 15 years old account for around 71 million visits to the doctor each year. A sick child or pediatrician visit is the most common reason why parents need to miss work, so telehealth visits could make a huge impact for working parents. 

A 2018 study of telehealth in a pediatric headache clinic found that 100% of parents who responded to a survey felt that telehealth visits were more convenient than a clinic visit and resulted in less disruption to their daily routines, and they would use telehealth again in the future. Parents also felt that virtual visits were more cost effective and estimated that they saved an average of $486 on a clinic visit. 

Better for Children with Special Health Care Needs

Telehealth services could be especially helpful for children with special healthcare needs and their families. These children usually need to see their pediatricians and other specialists frequently. It’s been estimated that while 65% of children with special healthcare needs require more complex care than usual pediatric care, only 43% of them receive ongoing, coordinated care. Having the option to meet with their pediatrician virtually could remove some of the barriers these families have faced in the past and give their children the care they need. 

The Downside

The benefits of pediatricians providing telehealth services are many, but it’s important to acknowledge the drawbacks as well. Virtual visits require updated technology, devices, and access to a reliable internet connection. Not every family can afford or access these tools, so those without them end up missing out on the benefits of being able to see a doctor virtually. This disparity contributes to health inequities in pediatrics. Studies have also found that obtaining parental consent before a virtual visit was a common barrier to treatment. 

In addition, seeing a doctor virtually is not the same as an in-person exam. A 2019 study found that care providers were more likely to prescribe antibiotics during a virtual visit as opposed to an in-person one. Of the pediatric appointments for upper respiratory infections analyzed in the study, patients on telehealth calls received antibiotics in 52% of appointments, compared with 42% seen in urgent care and 31% in the pediatrician’s office. 

While many telehealth providers offer care to children as well, it’s always best to see a trained pediatrician with specialized knowledge. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend that children under age 2 ever receive care from physicians who are not pediatricians. 

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit With a Pediatrician 

To schedule a telehealth visit with your pediatrician, call their office to inquire about the options and billing practices. If your pediatrician does not offer telehealth services, ask for a referral to one who does. The American Academy of Pediatrics has an online directory of pediatric telehealth programs that is regularly updated. 

Once you have scheduled the appointment, ask the clinic representative if the visit will take place over the phone or video chat and how long it would take. Your pediatrician’s office will need to obtain your consent to treat your child virtually before the appointment can take place. You will need to provide an electronic signature in the patient portal. 

Preparing your child for a telehealth visit with their pediatrician can take some extra time. For younger children, it may be helpful to show them the device you will be using and explain how it works. Older children and adolescents will most likely be familiar with the technology used and may be able to take the lead during the appointment. 

Prepare a space at home where you will be able to meet with the doctor free from distractions. Charge your device and download any software needed for the call beforehand. Ask your pediatrician’s office for a direct phone number to call in case you are disconnected during the visit. 

Make a plan with your child about who will be in the room with them. Young children need a parent sitting with them during the appointment. Adolescents and young adults may prefer a more private setting, with their parents in the next room. Make a list of any questions you may have for the doctor, and keep a pen and paper handy for taking notes. 

Will Insurance Cover a Telehealth Visit With a Pediatrician?

Billing policies for telehealth services with a pediatrician vary by state and insurance provider. A good starting place is the National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Center, which offers a database of telehealth billing policies by state. It’s best to call your provider directly to find out their current payment structure in your state. For example, a telehealth visit to address your teen’s acne could range from $43 to $86 depending on the provider.

What Happens During the Visit

Your pediatrician will ask about your child’s new symptoms or concerns. Your doctor may ask when they started, how long it has been going on, and what (if anything) provides some relief. After talking with you, your pediatrician will then ask your child some questions about their symptoms. Young children may be reluctant to participate at first, so it’s best to be patient with them and help as you’re able. Teenagers and young adults may choose to talk with their pediatrician in private.

It may be helpful to keep a list of questions with you during the visit. To treat your child’s condition, it’s possible that your pediatrician will prescribe a new medication or order some tests. Tests will need to be conducted in person. Ask your doctor when they expect your child to start feeling better and when to call back if the issue does not improve. 

During an in-person appointment, your child is entitled to the protection of their health information, and the same goes for telehealth visits. Providers offering telehealth visits must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and protect your child’s health information during and after the appointment. Healthcare providers may use any non-public-facing remote communication tool to communicate with patients.

A Word From Verywell

Taking advantage of your pediatrician’s telehealth services can be a convenient way to access the care that your child needs at any time. Virtual visits may be especially helpful for parents forced to miss work due to multiple medical appointments. Consider using telehealth visits for minor health concerns and injuries. However, always keep your child’s regular well-child visits and immunization appointments in person.

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Article Sources
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