The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge to the global health care system, and children's hospitals are leveraging a variety of resources to address the outbreak. One established—yet, still emerging—technology that seems a natural fit in the COVID-19 response is telemedicine. Among its benefits is the ability to screen potential COVID-19 patients quickly while they are safely isolated in their homes.
"As a pediatrician, that's what I appreciate most about this platform—there's so much to be said about laying eyes on a kid," says Stormee Williams, M.D., vice president, medical director, Network Development and Innovation at Children's Health in Dallas, Texas. "At the same time, we're trying to make sure we provide the appropriate care in the appropriate location and reach families and kids where they are to help them decide the best next step."
Virtual screening provides peace of mind
So far, the best next step for many of those kids has been to continue self-isolation and home treatment. The Virtual Visit COVID-19 screen consists of a questionnaire and virtual examination from a Children's Health clinician. If the Virtual Visit provider feels further examination is required, the patient is referred to their primary care physician for a follow-up in-person visit.
Roughly 25% of the virtual COVID-19 screens have led to a follow-up appointment, but Williams says parents are nonetheless appreciative of the service. "Parents are so thankful to be able to connect with a health care provider and get that reassurance," Williams says. "Some doctors are limiting their practice hours for risk of exposure or aren't able to keep up with the demand, so parents are grateful to get those questions answered about their child."
Telemedicine experience speeds virtual screening to market
Children's Health went live with its virtual COVID-19 screening last spring and was able to implement the program rapidly due to its extensive experience with telemedicine. Over the last five years, Children's Health has offered a wide range of pediatric health care services via its Virtual Visit platform—and has expanded its telemedicine reach with teleNICU services and school-based virtual care.
As COVID-19 spread across the U.S. and social distancing became the norm, it grew evident the hospital—and its pediatric population—could benefit from virtual screening for the virus. Williams says leveraging its telemedicine experience was key. "It's extremely vital—the experience we had in this field helped us to roll this out," Williams says. "I don't think that we'd have been able to do this if we were just starting telemedicine, but we felt very confident because we already had the platform that could allow us to do safe, secure visits for our families."
Telemedicine also limits exposure for non-COVID-19 patients
Another advantage of that experience, according to Williams, was the ability to rapidly bring Children's Health providers up-to-speed on the technology—she says her team trained 200 clinicians on the platform. While the hospital staffs Virtual Visit with three dedicated full-time clinicians and has additional on-call staff to support overflow and off-hours needs, the additional training allows providers to see their own patients for non-COVID-19 visits to limit face-to-face exposure during the pandemic.