Beat Cold and Flu Season with Children’s Telehealth

Children's telehealth could help kids avoid germy waiting rooms.

Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room during the peak of cold and flu season, it’s easy to start thinking every cough and sneeze from the other patients is aimed at you personally. It’s even worse if you’re taking a child in for a routine check-up or another reason not related to contagious illness–you’d have to bring them to the doctor in a bubble to avoid all those airborne germs.

You’re not being paranoid, either. A study of nearly 85,000 people conducted over more than a decade found that kids under six face an increased risk of getting sick in the two weeks following a trip to the doctor. In turn, the study found that the child’s family also has a greater risk of illness after the waiting room encounter.

So, what can you do if your kid needs to see the doctor, now that winter is in full swing and children are passing viruses back and forth like they’re playing catch? That’s where children’s telehealth comes in. Ideally, it means you and your child get to stay safely at home while a virtual doctor visits via video conference.

Children’s Telehealth Via App

A group of pediatricians in Arizona has come to this very same conclusion. They’ve begun offering treatment for routine childhood illnesses like coughs, sore throats, and rashes over a video conference call. The service specializes in nighttime, after-hours care for kids, whereby parents can get an initial diagnosis over a video call before they, perhaps unnecessarily, rush off to the emergency room.

The concept is a simple one. For $125 per video call, parents can get in direct contact with a child specialist over their smartphone. Parents need to download an app to make the connection, but from there they have an instant telehealth portal in their pocket–and ‘telehealth’ is just a technical way of describing an interaction between a patient and doctor over video.

High-def video calling has become common over smartphone, so there’s enough visual clarity to recreate an in-clinic visit online, especially with mom or dad on hand to relay information like temperature and heart rate. In addition to keeping everyone out of the waiting and emergency rooms, virtual consultations also let kids stay in the comfort of their own home–and you can customize a telehealth call to appeal to kids.

Video Calling and Kids

Video calling’s recreation of in-person conversation is faithful enough to have earned it a pass from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The influential group is usually a harsh critic of screen time among young children, but last year made a rare exemption for video calls, expressing support for kid-friendly video chat apps. It found children as young as two were able to distinguish between broadcast video and interactive video calls. Because of this, the Academy suggested the technology could be useful in building relationships between children and distant family members.

In other words, a sick child staring at their parent’s smartphone understands that the doctor on the other side of the screen is speaking to and about them personally, and isn’t just another strange YouTube clip.

That understanding is crucial to a medical exchange in which a child is going to be asked to explain “where it hurts” and when they started to feel ill. As personal as video calling is, however, it’s still a digital format. We can certainly go much further in building on the face-to-face experience to make virtual doctor visits more child-friendly.

Making a Virtual Doctor’s Visit More Fun

VC Daily has previously explored some of the multimedia apps and special effects that can be paired with video conferencing to make it a more child-friendly. These include using popular augmented reality avatars and masks to introduce dynamic number, letter, shape, and animal graphics to a conversation, and touchscreen technology to let children get handsy with the images in front of them.

Similar concepts could be used in a medical setting. How about a touch-sensitive image of the human body so a child could point to the sore spot? Or interactive augmented reality projections that can be manipulated by little hands to demonstrate basic motor skills? If the strange face of the remote doctor makes a small child too uncomfortable to participate in the exam, there are cartoon avatars that can be employed to speak on behalf of the pediatrician, such as Skype’s WonderGrove Kids below:

All of this imagery and visual spectacle is available to make a virtual appointment with the doctor more enjoyable than a real-world trip down to the clinic. The real achievement, however, is preventing the child–and by extension their parents and extended family–from having to sit among a cloud of sneezing, coughing victims of the cold and flu season. If the online examination proves as effective as an in-person appointment–and there’s evidence to suggest it can be–then one day all of us could be spared that paranoid wait in the doctor’s office.

Image Source: Flickr CC User Brett Neilson

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