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Pandemic Caused Rise in Telemedicine Visits for Kids, But Will the Trend Continue?

Pandemic Caused Rise in Telemedicine Visits for Kids, But Will the Trend Continue?

Virtual doctor visits for children grew this past year during the pandemic, but a new poll shows U.S. parents are divided on whether they will continue using this option in the future.

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan found that about one in five children had a virtual visit with their doctor for check-ups, minor illnesses, mental health or a follow-up appointment.

"COVID has had a major impact on the delivery of health care for children, both for routine check-ups and visits for illnesses," said Mott Poll co-director and pediatrician Dr. Gary Freed.

"We've seen a massive expansion of virtual care, but this experience is especially new to parents who primarily relied on in-person pediatric visits. Our poll looked at how parents have experienced this evolution in children's health," Freed said in a university news release.

The poll received responses from just over 2,000 U.S. parents of children aged 18 and younger in January.

About half of parents said they used telemedicine for their child's visit because they weren't offered an in-person option at that time. About one-third of parents chose telemedicine for its convenience.

"For busy parents, a virtual visit reduces the burden of travel time to the appointment and minimizes time away from work or school," Freed said.

About one in four children still saw their provider in person after a virtual visit, he noted. This may have been because the provider wanted to examine the child or the child needed an immunization or lab test.

Although about nine of 10 parents said they were satisfied with the visit and had all their questions answered, some are hesitant about using telemedicine in the future, the survey found.

Technology issues were a common concern, especially among lower-income parents.

"Moving forward, we want to make sure gaps in technology don't exacerbate disparities in care," Freed said. "Providers should provide clear directions and technical support for families who use virtual visits. Systems and policies that provide access to necessary and reliable technology will be essential to preventing inequity in availability and use of virtual care."

Other concerns included that the provider would not be as thorough as they would be in-person or that it would be too difficult to address their child's problem virtually.

About half of parents said they would be OK with a virtual visit if their child had a minor illness or if the visit was for a mental health concern. But about 77% preferred in-person visits for check-ups and 74% for specialist visits.

Experts recommend that hesitant parents first use virtual visits for non-urgent issues, including sleep or feeding questions, Freed said.

"We expect remote visits to continue to expand for pediatric patients long after the pandemic," Freed said. "Parents should try virtual visits to gauge whether they feel that the provider can understand the child's symptoms or condition and are comfortable asking questions in the virtual format."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has information on immunization catch-up, another medical concern affecting parents and their children during the pandemic.

SOURCE: Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan, news release, May 17, 2021

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