For patients around the world, the novel coronavirus has quickly accelerated the demand for telehealth appointments. At Children's Hospital Colorado, caregivers used to provide around 100 virtual visits per week, mostly with patient families who live far away. Since the pandemic began, that number has ballooned to 6,000 online appointments per week – and our patient families have embraced virtual care.
These virtual doctor visits have been a lifeline for patients with chronic conditions who need ongoing care and support to manage their medical needs. That includes kids like 8-year-old Keira.
At 2 months old, Keira was diagnosed with an extremely rare genetic condition that affects her brain, lungs, thyroid and muscles.
With a lot of hard work and help from her care team, Keira has made dramatic progress as she has grown, including leaving her oxygen tubes behind nearly three years ago and taking her first assisted steps just before her 4th birthday. The Multidisciplinary Clinic at Children’s Colorado has been critical in helping Keira and her family navigate the various specialists she needs to manage each aspect of her disease. Recently, though, for the first time in her life, Keira has not had to travel to see her specialists at Children’s Colorado. Instead, her multidisciplinary care team is coming to her, in the comfort and convenience of her home through telehealth. Using a secure video conferencing platform, Keira and her family continue to receive care from her beloved doctors.
“Keira’s pulmonologist asked her to cough to listen to how she was breathing,” said Jessica, Keira’s mom, about a recent telehealth appointment. “[The doctor] said she sounded great.”
To date, Keira has had three telehealth appointments, and while she misses seeing her doctors, nurses and therapists in person, her family is grateful to have virtual appointments as an option.
“I couldn’t recommend it more,” added Jessica.
COVID-19 accelerates need for telehealth
Telehealth enables Children’s Colorado to serve patients across the state, the region and around the world.
In April alone, Children’s Colorado significantly expanded its online appointment capacity by onboarding more than 1,000 pediatric providers to its telehealth network. The hospital’s IT and clinical teams collaborated to complete five years’ worth of progress in about five days to ensure Children’s Colorado patients were receiving the continuous care they needed.
The pandemic crisis has since led to the rapid escalation of telehealth use at Children’s Colorado across myriad areas, from outpatient and inpatient care to emergency services to a full range of behavioral health services for anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Telehealth is now offered by 775 providers in 39 specialties across 164 clinics in the Children’s Colorado system of care.
What’s more, the groundwork that has been laid in the last month is a major step forward in redesigning the future of pediatric health care altogether. As patients begin to safely return to Children’s Colorado for in-person appointments, the progress made in telehealth will continue to have a positive impact for years to come – especially for families who live far away from our care locations.
Critical community support for virtual healthcare appointments
Children's Colorado has been a longtime leader in the deployment of telehealth technologies, a vision made possible by generous donors whose support has helped us to rapidly scale our program. For years, philanthropic investment has played a significant role in establishing, maintaining and ramping up telehealth programs at Children’s Colorado. An anonymous Colorado foundation has given almost $1 million in support of telehealth hubs in Durango and Montrose, Colo., and now helps support school-based clinics in several towns across southern Colorado. Their contribution toward establishing our telehealth infrastructure was vital in our quick pivot to telehealth across our care continuum.
And thanks to the visionary support of more than $5 million from the Daniels Fund, the Bill Daniels Center for Children’s Hearing (BDCCH) at Children’s Colorado has actively been using telehealth for nearly a decade to serve patients who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and their families. The Scottish Rite Foundation has also given more than $5 million to support Children’s Colorado’s capacity for providing speech, language and learning telehealth care.
“We are so grateful to provide virtual learning, speech and language therapy, along with educational support in a family’s home,” said Kristin Uhler, PhD, Kelley Family/Schlessman Family Scottish Rite Masons Chair in Childhood Language Disorders and co-chair of the BDCCH. “During times like this, telehealth helps build a sense of togetherness. It reduces patient travel time, reduces cancellations due to weather or sibling illnesses, bridges the gap of distance, and allows improved implementation of treatments and therapies, because the parents are the ones doing the intervention work while we provide support and feedback.”
Because telehealth isn’t limited by geography, the opportunities for helping children and families are virtually boundless.