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Telehealth 101: The Doctor is (Virtually) In

Virtual doctor visits have grown in popularity, spurred mostly by the stay-at-home orders that were issued to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Even during a pandemic, people still need access to basic medical care, and online doctor visits allow patients to receive medical care and advice from the comfort and safety of their home, without having to visit a doctor’s office.

During this global COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth is a safe and convenient way to bridge the gap between patients and healthcare providers,” says Dr. Suzanne Grannan, a pediatrician and physician executive with Community Health Network. “This valuable tool enables patients to stay at home and receive the care that they need without entering medical facilities, minimizing their risk of either spreading or contracting the virus.

But how does virtual care work for children, and how do you know when a telehealth visit is right for your child’s particular situation? We asked the experts. 

When to Use Virtual Visits

Grannan says that virtual doctor visits can be an appropriate option to assess a child’s symptoms caused by many common illnesses, including allergies, cold symptoms, fever, pink eye, digestive problems, insect bites and rashes, as well as chronic conditions, such as asthma, ADHD and seizures. To find out whether a virtual visit is the right choice for your child’s condition, start by calling your child’s doctor’s office with your concerns.

Once the problem has been identified and discussed, the appropriate type of care can be given,” says Dr. Paul Halter, a pediatrician with Hancock Regional Hospital. “In many cases, a nurse may be able to address a parents’ questions without the need to speak directly to the physician. However, office staff is very adept at identifying when a problem needs to be addressed more thoroughly. At that point, the parent will be advised on whether a virtual visit is appropriate or whether an in-office visit is the right way to go. 

When to Visit the Office

As convenient as virtual visits arethere are times when an in-person doctor visit is necessary.

Based on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, all well-child visits should occur in-person whenever possible,” says Dr. Aileen Puno, pediatrician with Franciscan Physician Network“In-person well-child visits are important to keep children and teens up-to-date with their immunizations and avert the outbreak of vaccine-preventable illnesses. If an in-person visit is not possible for the child, the visit may be initiated virtually, with the recognition that some elements of the well exam must be completed in-person at a later time.”

And obviously, not every illness or condition can be evaluated over video. “Sometimes, we will ask a patient to be brought to the office so that an ear can be looked at or lungs can be listened to,” Halter says. “Even more valuable is simply the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation in an examination room. It is incredible how much information can be gained just by observing a child playing on the examination table or sitting on a parent’s lap. 

How to Prepare for a Virtual Doctor’s Visit

Just like with an in-person visit, it’s good to be prepared for your video visit. Grannan offers these tips: 

  • Know how to log in or initiate the telehealth visit before your appointment time. 
  • Enable the microphone, speaker and camera on your device ahead of time to make sure they work. 
  • Have your child with you in a well-lit room that is quiet and free from distractions, if possible.  
  • Make a list of your child’s symptoms, including how long they have occurred, how severe they are, and whether they are getting better, worse or staying the same. 
  • Make a list of all medications your child takes, the doses and how often. 
  • Note any changes in your child’s behavior, mood or activity level. 
  • Write down any questions that you want to ask so you don’t forget them. 
  • Have some key tools available, including a thermometer, flashlight (to look at your child’s throat) and your child’s weight.

In general, an in-person pediatrician visit will almost always be better than a virtual visit for children, because doctors are able to do a complete physical exam in person, Puno says. But virtual visits do have their place. “The goal of telehealth is to improve access for patients, increase convenience for patients, and to continue to manage acute and chronic conditions while complying with stay-at-home orders,” Puno says.

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