One in five parents in a new national survey said their child had a virtual health visit in the past year, a significant leap for pediatric telemedicine

Photo credit: CS Mott Children’s Hospital University of Michigan National Child Health Survey.

ANN ARBOR, me. – For children, pandemic norms meant a virtual school, vacation via Zoom, and for some even a home visit to the doctor.

One in five parents in a new national survey said their child had a virtual health visit in the past year for either checkups, minor illnesses, mental health, or follow-up visits – a marked increase in remote childcare.

And while some parents still have reservations about using telemedicine for their children, most were happy with the experience. This suggests results from the CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Survey on Child Health at the University of Michigan.

“COVID is having a huge impact on the delivery of child health services, both for routine checkups and disease visits,” said Mott Poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Gary L. Freed, MD, MPH

“We have seen a massive expansion in virtual care, but this experience is especially new to parents who have relied primarily on face-to-face pediatric visits. In our survey, we looked at how parents experienced this development in children’s health. “

The nationally representative survey is based on responses from 2,002 parents of children under the age of 18 in January 2021.

Factors Affecting Virtual Child Care

A major factor behind the increase in pediatric video visits could be that it was the only choice for some parents during much of the COVID-19 pandemic. About half of parents whose child used telemedicine were not given an in-person option because providers had limited office visits due to safety concerns for families and health teams. Instead, many began to offer or expand their capacities for pediatric virtual care.

However, for every third parent who opted for virtual care, safety and reducing exposure to the virus have been the main drivers. Another third of parents opted for virtual visits for convenience.

“For busy parents, a virtual visit reduces the travel time to the appointment and minimizes the time outside of work or school,” says Freed.

And while these video-doctor interactions were a first for many parents, nine out of ten were satisfied with the visit and felt that all of their questions were answered.

However, some parents remain reluctant to use telemedicine for children, citing factors such as technological issues.

One in four parents is concerned about technical issues with virtual visits. This is a more common problem with low-income parents.

“In the future, we want to ensure that technological gaps do not exacerbate the differences in care,” says Freed. “Providers should provide clear instructions and technical support to families using virtual visits.

“Systems and guidelines that enable access to necessary and reliable technology are essential to avoid inequalities in the availability and use of virtual care.”

Parents who cannot connect through a video visit could begin with a telephone consultation, but should be willing to bring their child for a face-to-face visit if necessary.

Every fourth parent surveyed saw a provider personally after a virtual visit. This could be because the provider wanted to screen the child or because additional services such as vaccinations or laboratory tests were required.

Future of e-visits for children

According to the Mott survey, families’ biggest concern about virtual visits is that the provider is not as thorough as it is in person, or that it is too difficult to virtually address their child’s problem.

However, around half of parents would be okay with a virtual visit because of a mental health problem or a minor illness. When parents opt for a virtual mental health visit, experts recommend determining when a child is less likely to experience “zoom fatigue” and not late in the day, which can make it difficult to focus and communicate .

In contrast, most parents prefer face-to-face visits for check-ups (77%), with only 23% agreeing to a virtual option. Similarly, 74% prefer a face-to-face visit to a specialist, 26% say they are okay with virtual visits.

For parents who may be hesitant about virtual visits, experts recommend trying a non-urgent problem like a sleeping or feeding issue first, Freed says.

“We assume that the number of remote visits to pediatric patients will continue to increase long after the pandemic,” says Freed. “Parents should attempt virtual visits to see if they believe the provider can understand the child’s symptoms or condition and ask questions in virtual format.”

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