The rise in virtual care use has spurred greater access to healthcare, enabling providers to meet patients where they are. In the case of healthcare’s youngest consumers, virtual care has not only helped mitigate barriers to care but also enhanced care delivery.
Pediatric patients, like their adult counterparts, used virtual care in droves during the COVID-19 pandemic. One 2021 survey shows that one in five parents said their child had a virtual visit in the past year. Further, virtual care gained popularity among parents. Another survey showed that more than 60 percent of parents said they would want to continue using virtual modalities for their child’s care after the pandemic, including almost 30 percent who hadn’t used it previously.
As a result, healthcare providers are increasingly implementing virtual care services for their pediatric populations. But selecting the right technology, and streamlining its implementation, are essential to ensuring the success of virtual pediatric care programs.
BENEFITS OF PEDIATRIC VIRTUAL CARE PROGRAMS
Virtual care offers pediatric patients and their providers a myriad of benefits, including expanded access to care.
Many pediatric specialists treat patients across multiple states with facilities managing large patient populations. Children with chronic illnesses often have to take time out of school to see a specialist, while their parents or guardians have to take time off work. In addition, care providers may have trouble traveling to rural communities to provide care, taking unaffordable time away from the office for long periods as they care for individual patients across regions.
“Virtual care not only increases efficiency but impacts access to care in ways in-person care cannot. It has helped those who don’t have access to transportation, especially in the middle of the night,” says Jacquelin Solomon, Implementations Project Manager at eVisit, a telemedicine solutions provider. “A parent with a sick child being able to have increased access to care — that’s a huge thing that virtual care services provide now.”
Telehealth has been especially useful in unlocking access to specialty care for children, such as speech therapy and behavioral health services.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many specialty care providers didn’t consider virtual care a viable option to provide care, according to Jackie Thomas, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at eVisit. But following the widespread use of virtual care during the public health emergency, providers found that it can, in fact, improve care quality, particularly for children with special needs.
For instance, a 2022 pre-and post-data analysis showed wrap-around virtual care programs for children and adolescents with medical complexity demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in hospitalizations and ED visits. Virtual care can also be beneficial for providers to virtually observe an autistic child in their home environment where they are most comfortable and can best demonstrate their routine to develop an appropriate treatment plan, she adds.
Further, virtual care supports pediatric care providers in several ways, including by boosting operational efficiency and clinician productivity. Care coordination, education, parental support, and care triage, in particular, become easier with virtual care, Solomon and Thomas note.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS WHEN SELECTING TELEHEALTH TECHNOLOGY
To ensure the success of a pediatric virtual care program, healthcare providers must select the right technology. One key factor to consider is the configurability of the platform.
“You do not want your highly compensated providers trying to figure out all the nooks and crannies of a platform that isn’t configured and designed to their workflow,” says Jason Weinrich, Senior Director of Professional Services at eVisit.
Configuring the platform to clinical workflows — rather than adjusting workflows to the platform’s capabilities — can support provider adoption and continuity of care.
“Having that ability to quickly access the visit from their schedule, see a patient, hand off the patient to another clinician, like a nurse educator, all from one virtual care platform allows for continuity of care,” Thomas states. “It also prevents burnout for the provider by allowing an MA to support rooming the patient and the entire clinical team to work at the top of their license.”
Additionally, customizing virtual care platforms can allow clinicians to address social determinants of health specific to the pediatric populations they serve.
For instance, adding translation services to the platform can help providers engage with patients with limited English proficiency.
“Providing access to these patient populations and allowing them to have the whole platform translated into Spanish increases patient satisfaction as well as adherence to care plans for non-English speaking pediatric patients and their parents or caregivers,” says Solomon.
Another critical consideration is whether the virtual care platform integrates into the provider’s EHR, which can further streamline workflows, eliminate redundant and duplicative tasks, and increase proper visit documentation, freeing up providers for patient care, she adds.
Ultimately, pediatric virtual care programs have the best chance for success when the selected technology meets the health system’s specific needs. The only way to ensure this is through detailed conversations between vendors and clinical leaders.
“Clinical leaders need to have a conversation with vendors about what workflows look like with their solution, discussing what their clinical teams are doing every day, and where the pain points are,” says Weinrich. “Vendors should be able to recommend solutions to accommodate clinical workflows across multiple specialties, supporting both scheduled and on-demand visits. Bringing that insight into the conversation as opposed to just giving you their out-of-box product is key. Build that box together.”
BEST PRACTICES FOR IMPLEMENTATION
Implementation of virtual care that supports the digitization of pediatric care requires significant efforts to ensure new care models do not inadvertently exacerbate inequities in care. Deciding on a comprehensive project plan is the first step.
Platforms should be configurable to align with established workflows while also offering innovative ways to enhance workflows for greater efficiency. Then, there needs to be discussions around platform education and adoption strategies. Vendors should partner with the health system’s training teams to ensure a successful rollout.
Health systems must then walk through the workflows before putting them into action. Having your providers test everything and offer real-time feedback before going live can prevent future issues.
In this way, providers can ensure that the technology will power their pediatric virtual care programs and provide the necessary flexibility as virtual care preferences shift.
“You want to adjust quickly because the market’s adjusting quickly because patients enjoy the access virtual care gives them,” Weinrich said. “It’s exciting; we see our health system clinical teams getting very excited about jumping on, doing quick testing with us to make sure things work. They are excited too about where virtual care is headed.”
Though virtual care use has leveled off since its peak in the early months of the pandemic, virtual care has become an integral part of the healthcare delivery model. As pediatric providers optimize their programs, the right technology can go a long way toward widening access and improving the healthcare experience for patients and their families.