Navigating the
Pediatric Telehealth
Physical Exam
to expand
care access 

Author: Satta Sarmah Hightower

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a new need and appreciation for telehealth visits including the pediatric telehealth care model. Infants often spike fevers—and with the threat of COVID—parents were not keen on taking their infants into an emergency room for a pediatric physical exam where potential exposure was high. The benefits of pediatric telehealth far outweighed the risks. Telehealth is safer, accessible from the comfort of home, and convenient.

Remote physical assessments likely will be part of the care process going forward, especially for children with special needs and pediatric patients in rural communities who can't easily see a doctor but still need ongoing access to care. One study of patient telehealth experiences performed by the National Institute of Health (NIH) even found that 90% of patients liked this approach to care and would rank it equal to or better than traditional in-person care¹. In a separate survey of primary care physicians, 64% of providers agreed that telehealth was vital to maintaining patients' access to care, indicating that care delivery models are expanding outside of physical boundaries in a way that may ultimately benefit patients.

Pediatric telehealth and the benefits of a pediatric physical exam

For pediatric patients, categorized as anyone under 18 years of age, a remote pediatric physical exam can positively impact patient outcomes, helping to improve a child’s quality of life and family well-being. Pediatric telehealth visits can be augmented by a set of medical devices that can help a doctor investigate issues. For example, a parent can take their infant’s vitals via connected devices. A doctor has the ability to assess a toddler’s sore throat over the phone or make an assessment to bring the child into a medical center for further testing.

Pediatric telehealth continues to grow in value to complement in-person care. In this modern world, care doesn’t end when a patient leaves the doctor’s office. Medical practices that adopt digital patient engagement tools show greater patient connection and retention through the use of continued monitoring, health apps, wearable health trackers, virtual assessments and regular check-ins; in fact, 66% of patients reported they don’t mind using apps and wearable health trackers to boost outcomes.

How does it work?

Health care providers have relied on remote patient monitoring technologies and video conferencing platforms such as BlueJeans Telehealth by Verizon to help perform remote physical assessments, and they've worked with families to deliver mobile care from the comfort of a pediatric patient's own home. Additionally, for many visit types and certain clinical specialties, a "virtual first" hybrid model of practice will be transformative to the way patients now consume care and how patients from underrepresented backgrounds can benefit from more readily available access to care.

Through a virtual visit, remote patient monitoring and physical assessment devices can augment the diagnostic discussion and enable telehealth to truly complement in-person care. Remote patient monitoring technologies can transfer relevant data to the pediatrician via a secure mobile app or telehealth platform, allowing the provider to use this information to more accurately assess a pediatric patient during the visit and provide the right care recommendations.

These solutions also provide additional options for children who require ongoing care allowing near real-time evaluations and feedback from patients, families, and healthcare providers. For instance, a doctor or nurse practitioner could obtain essential information that would complement the pediatric physical exam to update a patient’s medical history, prescribe medications or consult with a specialist.

Virtual care is an alternative in rural areas with limited health resources or areas which suffer from physician shortage. According to data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States could see an estimated physician shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care. 

Technologies that support telehealth physical exam

Remote monitoring technologies typically used during a pediatric telehealth visit automatically transfer all data to the pediatrician via a secure mobile app or telehealth platform, allowing the healthcare provider to use this information to more accurately assess a pediatric patient during the visit and provide the right care recommendations. Devices are being used for medical exams from the comfort of home to perform ear, nose and throat exams as well as lung and heart auscultation. Additional examples of devices used in a virtual medical exam can include:

  • Digital stethoscopes
  • Digital blood pressure monitors
  • Infrared thermometers
  • Wearable monitors
  • Digital tongue depressor to conduct a throat exam
  • All-in-one handheld devices featuring a digital camera

Along with remote patient monitoring technologies, strong network connectivity is crucial to conducting effective remote physical assessments in a mobile care or in-home care environment. A stable internet connection, reliable coverage and connectivity can ensure faster data processing and transmission, so pediatric patients can communicate with and see their doctor during a virtual visit without having to worry about poor video or audio connections.

Reliable connectivity also ensures that providers receive the data they need in a timely manner. This helps them ask the right follow-up questions during the visit and gather all the necessary information to make treatment decisions and referrals or to determine whether to request an in-person visit for further follow-up care.

Expanding access to pediatric care with telehealth technologies

Remote patient monitoring technologies and strong network connectivity play a vital role in supporting pediatric telehealth and mobile care. These technologies allow clinicians to transfer traditional in-person care activities to a virtual setting to ensure patients have access to the care and treatment they need. Though in-person care may likely continue as the main way patients receive care going forward, virtual visits and remote physical assessments will provide families with more care options and empower pediatric patients and their caregivers to be even more engaged in the care process—all of which could lead to better health outcomes.

Learn how Verizon is partnering with companies like Apple Health to securely integrate patient-generated health monitoring data into the telehealth visit. Read more about Verizon virtual care solutions here.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.

¹NIH. Dandachi, Dima et al. “It is Time to Include Telehealth in Our Measure of Patient Retention in HIV Care.” AIDS and behavior vol. 24,9 (2020): 2463-2465. doi:10.1007/s10461-020-02880-8