Telemedicine for children’s healthcare: how paediatric telemedicine could lead to the overprescription of antibiotics

An image to demonstrate paediatric telemedicine, which could lead to the overprescription of antibiotics
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Paediatric telemedicine visits are increasingly used, but they could lead to the overprescription of antibiotics, according to a new study.

According to new research from the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh published in the journal Pediatrics, children with acute respiratory infections were more frequently prescribed antibiotics during paediatric telemedicine visits than in-person primary care appointments or urgent care visits.

How common is telemedicine?

Ray, who is also assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, added: “Insurers are increasingly offering telemedicine – with 96% of large business insurance plans now offering coverage – and as a result, millions of children now have access, and our prior work found that use is rapidly increasing.”

Does paediatric telemedicine lead to the overprescription of antibiotics?

The research showed that:

  • Children received antibiotic prescriptions during 52 percent of telemedicine visits;
  • 42 percent received them during urgent care visits; and
  • 31 percent received them during visits to a primary care provider.

The researchers also stated that, compared to the primary care and urgent care visits, the antibiotic prescriptions received as a result of telemedicine visits were less likely to be consistent with clinical guidelines.

The unnecessary use of antibiotics or a broader use than necessary could result in side effects and contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Analysing paediatric telemedicine

The lead author Kristin Ray, M.D., M.S., paediatrician, Division of General Academic Pediatrics, UPMC Children’s Hospital, explained: “In recent years, the use of telemedicine for acute, primary care concerns has increased among children. We know very little about the care children receive during these direct-to-consumer telemedicine visits, which occur with doctors outside of the child’s usual paediatric office.”

Ensuring that technological advances maintain the quality of paediatric care

Ray concluded: “As a general paediatrician, I’m interested in making care easier and less burdensome for families, and I think there are many technological innovations that aim to do this, but I think it also is important to make sure the quality of the care that children receive remains high.”

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