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Pediatric telehealth programs are growing, diversifying


 

AT ATA 2016

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MINNEAPOLIS – More pediatric subspecialists are using telehealth as a tool to treat patients, a new study shows.

From 2011 to 2015, the number of inpatient specialties using pediatric telehealth grew by 24% (from 25 to 31 programs), while the diversity of specialties conducting outpatient pediatric programs increased by 61% (from 23 to 37 programs), according to research presented at the American Telemedicine Association annual conference.

Dr. James T. McElligott

Dr. James T. McElligott

Dr. James T. McElligott, vice chair of the ATA Pediatric Special Interest Group and his colleagues, surveyed fellow members of the ATA’s Pediatric Special Interest Group and members of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Telehealth Care during April-June 2015. Respondents were asked whether their institution offered pediatric telemedicine services for each of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education specialties for inpatients and outpatients. International pediatric telemedicine services also were evaluated. The results were compared with a similar study conducted in 2011.

In addition to increased inpatient and outpatient specialist use, investigators found international pediatric telemedicine services being offered grew from 5 programs in 2011 to 24 programs in 2015. Some of the new inpatient pediatric telemedicine programs identified in the 2015 survey included hospice and palliative medicine, plastic surgery (including craniofacial surgery), and thoracic surgery (including congenital cardiac surgery). The only new outpatient program identified was that of pain management.

Unique pediatric programs noted in international telemedicine offerings included burn surgery, general pediatrics, infectious disease, nephrology, neonatal-perinatal medicine, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, pathology, rheumatology, and congenital cardiac surgery.

The research shows there are few stones left unturned when it comes to pediatric specialists using telemedicine, said Dr. McElligott, who is also medical director for telehealth at the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital, Charleston. He oversees the Center for Telehealth at the university.

“The amount of folks doing telehealth in pediatrics has greatly increased ,and the type of telehealth they’re doing has really diversified in just a few years,” he said in an interview. “It’s just more evidence of this exponential growth in the use of telehealth.”

More physician and patient acceptance of telehealth have contributed to the rise, Dr. McElligott said. Pediatricians are realizing the positive effect telehealth can have on efficiency and the continuum of care.

“Even though you want to do it for the patient, and even though you want to do it for the greater good, if you focus on how the consultant’s life is improved in some way, than your initiative can scale,” he said in an interview. “I think what you see is people’s lives getting better and choosing to use telehealth not just because they have a big heart, but because it’s starting to make sense in changing the efficiency of the care system.”

Dr. McElligott encourages more information-sharing among pediatric telehealth programs as pertains to best practices and successful outcomes. In the past, telehealth discussions have primarily focused on how to build a telehealth program and the administrative hurdles at play. But with the many diverse programs underway, the focus should move to how the clinical services are being delivered and the ways in which they are effective.

“We’ve always been talking about it, but we haven’t had enough programs to start looking at it and evaluating it,” he said. “Our survey really just says, ‘It’s time to start doing that.’ It’s really exciting to get to the point where we’re not just talking about telehealth for kids, but getting down to the specifics.”

The study authors reported no disclosures.

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