Telehealth Program Quickly Expands to Help Doctors Deliver Care Amid COVID-19 Crisis

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In these times of physical distancing and hospital visitor restrictions, medical appointments across the nation have been put on hold. But Nationwide Children’s Hospital has quickly expanded their telehealth program to deliver needed care to kids while stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“We can reduce the risk of exposure to our patients, their families and our staff and the trickle-down effect of these preventative measures is enormous,” said David Stukus, MD, associate professor of pediatrics in the division of allergy and immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The hospital has been ramping up their telehealth program, but the initiative was drastically accelerated as the coronavirus crisis evolved, offering virtual appointments with more providers across more specialties.

“With few exceptions, we can accomplish almost everything we would at an in-person visit during a telehealth appointment, including the most likely diagnosis, recommended treatment options and follow-up care,” said Stukus. “And because we are connected to electronic medical records, we can also prescribe medication or diagnostic tests like x-rays or blood work.”

The behavioral health department has been among the busiest, completing more than 8,000 telehealth appointments from March 13 to April 2. Experts say it is critical that mental health care continue to be accessible during this difficult time.

“A lot of kids really rely on these regular mental health visits and counseling sessions, and skipping just one appointment can put a child in danger,” said Ujjwal Ramtekkar, MD, a psychiatrist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion. “Telehealth allows them to keep those trusted connections with their care team without having to leave their homes.”

Experts expect telehealth to continue to grow after the COVID-19 crisis passes. A $1 million donation from Columbus-based American Electric Power (AEP) Foundation will help Nationwide Children’s ensure these services continue for patients and their families, especially for those in rural areas further from the hospital. New technology is being developed to expand the capabilities of virtual appointments, including more extensive physical exams and at-home diagnostic testing.

For more information on how Nationwide Children’s is using telehealth to provide the best outcomes for children during COVID-19 and tips to successfully use telehealth services, visit the 700 Children’s Blog.