A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics addresses how telehealth can be used to increase patient access to high-quality, cost-efficient primary and subspecialty pediatric care, especially for those in under-resourced areas. The policy also pushes for equitable telehealth access for children and adequate payment for telehealth services.
The policy, “Telehealth: Improving Access to and Quality of Pediatric Health Care,” (published in the September 2021 issue of Pediatrics and online Aug. 30), urges that the digital transformation of health care address barriers such as language, digital literacy, disability, and access to and payment for technology infrastructure to ensure that underlying disparities are not exacerbated.
With telehealth, there is a need to follow the highest quality standards of clinical care, while also ensuring that technology implementation is not worsening health care disparities -- the digital divide.
“Telehealth became more widely available during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not everyone has ideal access to it,” said Alison Curfman, MD, MBA, FAAP, an author of the policy and a member of the AAP Section on Telehealth Care Executive Committee. “We must address the absence of technology in some homes, digital literacy issues, and unreliable internet coverage to best serve our patients.”
When the health care system is disrupted, as it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic, disparities in access to care can become more problematic. Disruptions can result in neglect of serious medical conditions as well as forgoing needed preventive care and immunizations.
Missed opportunities for care can have serious immediate and long-term consequences for children’s health, development, and welfare that are more severe for populations of children affected by inequities based on race/ethnicity, disability, geography, socioeconomic status, and payer policies, according to the AAP.
In the policy statement, the AAP calls for:
“Telehealth is a great option when families can’t make it to a medical office because of transportation issues or out of a fear of missing too much work or because of COVID-19 concerns,” Dr. Curfman said. “But we must work together to ensure that we reach everyone who needs care. Practices should set up strong telehealth systems, work with families on technological issues, and follow up to make certain patients are getting the care they need.”
To request a copy of the embargoed policy statement or an interview, contact AAP Public Affairs
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.