Telemedicine for Asthma: the Pros and Cons
When it is not fully or properly controlled, asthma can present a significant impediment to a full, happy childhood. Children with asthma can experience difficulties when they try to play, participate in sports, laugh, cry, express strong emotions, and when they’re recovering from illnesses like common colds or the flu. How can telemedicine help physicians better serve these children, and what are the pros and cons of telemedicine for asthma?
1 in 10 children in the United States has asthma, making it the most common chronic childhood disease in the country.
Once a child has been diagnosed with asthma, they usually must follow a long-term plan that combines frequent checkups with preventive medication, rescue medication, gentle exercise, and a healthy diet. In order to examine the potential for telemedicine to help schoolchildren who were missing a significant amount of school when their asthma symptoms flared up, the University of Rochester Medical Center conducted a randomized clinical trial of 169 children.
The researchers found that those who were treated with a combination of telemedicine services and school-based preventive medication therapy were nearly half as likely to need to seek out treatment via an emergency department or hospital urgent care for their asthma symptoms.
That landmark study, combined with what we know about the potential for telemedicine to impact the healthcare landscape in rural and urban areas, reveals that telemedicine may be the beginnings of a reliable, egalitarian way to ensure consistent access to quality care.
Telemedicine creates better access to specialists.
Most Americans don’t live where they can easily drive and reach the office of a physician who truly specializes in childhood asthma. If a child doesn’t respond to the very common combination of preventive drugs and a careful avoidance of suspected triggers, a referral to a specialist might be the only next step.
Telemedicine allows parents to connect with specialists who may be across the country from them--often without even leaving their living rooms. For families in search of answers, in search of tailored therapies that can help children have a healthy, spirited childhood, telemedicine is a godsend.
Telemedicine is usually less expensive.
Telemedicine costs less for providers, so it usually costs less for patients, as well. Of course, saving hundreds or thousands of dollars on travel expenses makes telemedicine the best financial decision on several levels.
Children who follow their protocols missed fewer school days.
Once a child has been diagnosed with asthma and been given a preventive medication as well as a rescue inhaler, it’s vital that they take their preventive inhaler daily. Patients who connect with their physicians regularly via telemedicine tend to follow their protocols more cooperatively.
Alternatively, more states may choose to follow trail blazed by the program in Rochester, which arranged for schools to administer preventive medications once daily to each asthmatic student who had been enrolled in this experimental program. Their success speaks for itself; access to care and adherence to protocol helps asthmatic children get better.
Parents who choose telemedicine miss fewer work hours.
Whether it’s because their child has been prescribed a medication that prevents most of their attacks or because they don’t have to take three hours off work every time they need to take their child to the doctor due to asthma, parents who chose telemedicine for their asthmatic children reported missing fewer work hours due to their child’s asthma.
Patients who connect with their physicians via telemedicine have less contact with contagious viruses.
Perhaps the most nerve-wracking thing about having a child with asthma is watching them struggle to breathe through a cold or flu, or through the pneumonia and bronchitis that can follow these primary infections.
Every parent hates taking their child in to the pediatrician’s waiting room during cold and flu season, but when your child has serious asthma, an infection can mean that your child will cough for 2 months or more.
Parents who choose telemedicine are able to bypass this high-risk area. While they can still connect with their child’s physician in a quiet, personal way, they don’t have to be connected with the rest of the patient population so directly.
It can be trickier to navigate insurance paperwork for telemedicine services.
Because both telemedicine and insurance laws vary from state to state, submitting and being reimbursed for telemedicine services can be somewhat tricky.
If you are able to, call your insurance and telemedicine providers with questions before you choose your child’s physician and establish care.
Your child’s pediatrician may not yet offer telemedicine services.
If you or your child are very invested in your current pediatrician, it’s possible that you may choose to prioritize that relationship. There’s no reason for you to second-guess this choice; if the physician you have is helping you and your child keep your child’s asthma under control, then the most important parts of treatment are already in place.
If, however, your doctor’s practice is very full, or your pediatrician, while fine in other respects, seems at a loss when helping your child with a more complicated immune-mediated asthma process, telemedicine is worth your careful consideration.