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Can a video chat with your pediatrician be as helpful as an in-person visit? Consider this your guide to telemedicine.

By Tamekia Reece
Updated January 07, 2021
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Mom looking at phone with baby
Credit: Halfpoint/shutterstock

Telemedicine services have existed for several years now, but they've become more prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The benefits seem almost too good to be true—no traffic, no waiting room, and no coughing kids except your own! But are virtual pediatric appointments as beneficial as in-person doctor's visits? We spoke with experts to learn about the two types of virtual appointments (at-home visits and outpatient telehealth), and whether they may be right for your family.

At-Home Visits

This is a real-time, video-based appointment at your house. You use your computer, phone, or tablet to connect with your doctor through a program that complies with medical privacy laws, like Amwell, Doxy.me, or Zoom for Healthcare. Some providers perform well-child checkups this way (with a brief in-person visit later for shots, hearing and vision screening, or a physical exam).

At-home visits might come in handy if your kid has a cold, a rash, allergies, or a minor injury (ankle sprain, insect bite). They're also useful if your kid needs physical therapy, a post-surgical follow-up, or mental-health services (yes, even for kids—they tend to feel more comfortable at home). And if your child has special needs like cerebral palsy, the convenience of telehealth could be a lifesaver.

Outpatient Telehealth

Rather than traveling to a specialist, your child will go to your doctor's office or another nearby facility, like the E.R. A nurse will assist in person as a doctor at a different location provides care through video.

Your provider might recommend outpatient telehealth if your child requires care or special equipment that isn't available nearby or can't be accessed at your house, such as a blood draw, stitches removal, or a particular type of exam (like a heart murmur evaluation by a cardiologist).

Virtual Healthcare Tips

If you're still unsure about telehealth services, consider these following tips from Parents advisor David Hill, M.D., a pediatrician and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro, on how to make it work for you.

Sleuth out options. Video visits are generally most successful when they're with your child's own doctor. More pediatricians are adding the option for their patients, but pay-as-you-go or commercial services that your insurance or employer covers may connect you with a provider who isn't a pediatrician. Once you're connected to a doctor, feel free to ask about their qualifications, including where they practice and what they specialize in.

Test it out. Try a video visit for a low-stakes issue like a sleep or feeding question. You can gauge whether you like the format.

Visit the doctor for exams and tests. Note that you should probably head to a doctor's office for concerns like a middle-ear infection, strep throat, or an asthma attack, where an exam or a lab test will be given to make an accurate diagnosis.

Sources: Nicole Leigh Aaronson, M.D., a pediatric otolaryngologist at Nemours/ Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, in Wilmington, Delaware; Alison Brent, M.D., medical director of The Children's Hospital Network of Care at Children's Hospital Colorado and a member of the Executive Committee of the AAP Section on Telehealth Care; Christina Olson, M.D., medical director of telehealth at Children's Hospital Colorado.

Parents November 2018

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