As the COVID19 pandemic continues to spread and utilize more of our health resources, many clinicians are being asked to minimize in–hospital clinic appointments. While it may seem simple to switch to telehealth for routine clinic appointments, there are a number of factors that need to be considered to make the process as smooth as possible for yourself and your patient and family.
This post will help you make the transition from face–to–face clinic appointments to telehealth. There are even more tips and tricks for assessing children with acute illnesses via telehealth, stay tuned!
Is your patient suitable for telehealth review?
If the answer is yes then continue on! There are some factors to consider though.
Need for clinical examination – if a clinical examination plays a key role in decision making telehealth may not be appropriate e.g. features of heart failure in a child requiring correction of a congenital heart defect
Multidisciplinary clinics e.g. cleft palate clinic – it may not be possible for clinics with multiple different providers to be shifted to telehealth
Need for procedures – in some clinics procedures are essential such as dressing changes or immunizations and therefore may not be possible via telehealth or community services
Some of the above barriers may be overcome by collaborating with your patients, their families, local general practitioner, and nurse practitioner; it is worth exploring this as an option.
Does your patient and their family have the right technology?
In general, the technology required for telehealth includes:
- Reliable internet connection (remember that the weather, location and other users online at the time can impact your connection speed)
- Computer, tablet or smartphone
- Web–camera (inbuilt in many computers, tablets, and smartphones)
- Secure program to communicate through (e.g. Skype, Zoom, FaceTime)
Telehealth consultations are inherently different to face to face ones. It’s really important to acknowledge that your consultation has shifted to a two–dimensional format which poses unique challenges.
Voice or video – which should I choose?
Voice is more accessible, particularly for the elderly who may not have phones or computers with video capabilities. It requires lower bandwidth and is less susceptible to disruptions. Unfortunately, you can’t see the patient (duh!) which means you can’t use your ‘end–of–the–bed–o–gram’ to see if they are well or unwell.
Video provides visual information on whether your patient appears ‘well’ or ‘unwell’. It is ideal for those patients and families with hearing impairment as non–verbal communication is preserved, as is the option to lip–read. With the increased use of the internet during isolation, quarantine and social distancing, connectivity can be slow at times. Some governments have been advocating for online streaming services to downgrade from HD format to help preserve bandwidth.
Irrespective of the method chosen it is important to ensure the lighting optimizes illumination of your face, and sound is adequate with minimal background noise.
How should I run the consultation?
Before you start make sure you have your information technology support team phone number in case issues arise that you can’t troubleshoot. Check the patient’s identity, sound, and vision (if using video) and consider having a set of earbuds/ headphones handy.
Ensure that your patient and their families are holding the consultation in a private, safe space. Clarify the amount of time available for the consultation. Non-verbal cues that the consult needs to come to an end are more challenging with telehealth.
Limit distractions – if the family has lots of children or pets, it is worth asking at the beginning of the consultation if they can play in another room (safely), or have a quiet activity to get on with. Communication with noisy siblings is even harder via telehealth than in real life
If you need an interpreter before to organize this in advance, either by phone or in-person
At the end of the consultation take a brief moment to ask your patient and their family for feedback about the telehealth consultation
- Did your patient hear/ see you throughout the consultation?
- Was your patient happy with the care they received?
- Would your patient be happy to have another telehealth consultation in the future?
But how do I examine the patient?
A major barrier to telehealth is the inability to carry out a physical examination. You can, however, gather more from video telehealth than you realize.
General Inspection – probably the most important part of the paediatric examination :
- Does the child look well or unwell?
- Are they active and engaged, or quiet and withdrawn?
- Do they look well-grown? (remember to review your patients’ growth charts!)
- Do they look like their parent(s)? Do they have dysmorphic facial features?
Observations – In most teleconsultations you won’t have this information, some patients and their families may have:
- A thermometer to take their temperature (although generally not required for a routine clinic appointment unless the child is acutely unwell)
- A smartwatch or app on their smartphone which can take their heart rate and or oxygen saturation for older children with comorbidities (e.g. chronic lung disease)
- If a blood pressure is important for decision making (e.g. chronic kidney disease) it is vital that the cuff is fitting correctly; few families have at–home sphygmomanometers, so they may be able to visit the local practice nurse for an accurate measurement
Respiratory – A wise professor once said that most of the respiratory examination only requires your eyes
If the video quality allows – what is the respiratory rate? Are there signs of increased respiratory effort? Is the respiratory cycle normal, or is there a prolonged expiratory phase?
Development – assessment requires some assistance and props from parents, but this in itself gives you information about the parent–infant bond and social skills:
- Gross motor – stacking blocks, throwing a ball, sitting/walking/cruising/running and jumping
- Fine motor – picking up raisins, scribbling or drawing
- Speech and Language – can the child point out pictures in a book? Read you something?
- Social – difficult to assess via telehealth; it’s easier to obtain from history and parental/teacher questionnaires
- Questionnaires filled out ahead of time can help gather more objective information on the developmental domains of concern (e.g. Ages and Stages Questionnaires)
Neurological – this is very challenging to assess via telehealth, only gross assessments of tone and coordination will be possible (see above for gross and fine motor)
In Australia, many Medicare item numbers have recently become available to bulk-bill telehealth sessions. This includes quarantined/isolated doctors who are still able to provide telehealth from home. It is worth checking with the relevant agency in your area to see what options are available to support telehealth, and what the surrounding rules and regulations are.
Here are some useful elements to document:
- Your name, date, time & location of consultation
- Patient/ carer consent for the telehealth consultation
- Those present for the consultation
- Video vs phone consultation
- Limitations to quality of consultations (e.g. poor connectivity)
We recommend giving your friendly indemnity insurer a call if you have any specific medicolegal questions
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