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Telehealth Niche for Special-Needs Kids

Telehealth could be an important component of health care for special-needs children in California, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, in collaboration with UC-Davis Children’s Hospital, The Children’s Partnership and the Center for Connected Health Policy.

“Telehealth … has proven to be an effective tool in making the types of specialized care and coordination needed by children with special health care needs more accessible,” the report said. “Telehealth is being used to provide quality care in areas such as behavioral health, neonatal care, disease management and coordination of care.”

The 1.4 million California kids with special needs start with greater medical need, particularly for specialists, said Jacob Vigil, senior program associate at The Children’s Partnership, in a written statement.

“These children … often find their health care needs unmet for a variety of reasons, such as provider shortages, lack of access to specialists, lack of affordable transportation and a number of other barriers,” Vigil said. “But with the increased use of video conferencing, remote patient monitoring through smartphones and other technology applications, we can break down those barriers and make it possible for more children to get care they may otherwise go without, right in their own communities.”

The report made a number of recommendations to improve special-needs families’ access to telehealth options within the California Children’s Services and Medi-Cal programs:

  • Reach out to providers with more information about telehealth choices;
  • Educate families about telehealth by working through community-based organizations;
  • Expand the number of billing codes for special-needs care through telehealth;
  • Include the patient’s home in the list of eligible telehealth locations;
  • Launch a special needs stakeholder workgroup to pinpoint the policy problems and propose solutions; and
  • Open demonstration projects to work out best practices for telehealth and special-needs children in California.

The report is based on a number of sources, including a literature review and online surveys and interviews with providers, CCS administrators and other stakeholders.

“We were able to uncover both the best practices of how telehealth is implemented and the difficulties in bringing it to scale,” Vigil said.

The biggest obstacles reported by pediatricians, he said, were the time it would take to coordinate telehealth, the lack of proper reimbursement and a dearth of proper equipment. However, he said, most pediatricians were excited by the possibilities and wanted to hear more about it.

“It was clear from our interviews and surveys that many are eager for an expansion of telehealth that could help families get their children the care they need in a timely manner and at an affordable cost,” Vigil said, “regardless of where they live.”

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