While its effect has varied across different types of organizations, the coronavirus pandemic has had an extensive impact on all U.S. health systems. Even though many believe COVID-19 is “kinder” to children than adults, children’s hospitals have faced their own unique challenges, as parents and caregivers seek safe physical and mental health care for minors. To look at the impact of COVID-19 on these types of organizations, Kyruus held a virtual forum series last month featuring Seth Bokser, M.D., a Pediatric Hospitalist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Benioff Children’s Hospital and Clinical Professor at the UCSF Department of Pediatrics; and Jennifer Magaziner, Senior Director of Strategy and Digital Innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital.
In a discussion moderated by Kyruus’ SVP of Sales and Growth and former pediatric nurse at Denver Children’s Hospital, Travis Moore, panelists discussed COVID-19’s ramifications for pediatric access to care, how leading organizations are adjusting and innovating, and what implications they see for care delivery in the coming months. Below are some of the key takeaways:
The pandemic affected children’s healthcare, though not in the same way as adult care.
- The impact of deferred care—in healthy children, those with complex care needs, and cases in between—can have an immense and enduring impact on children’s safety and development. This is especially prevalent in disenfranchised communities who have had more trouble accessing care during this crisis. Some of the most prominent concerns are that COVID-19 has directly affected vaccination rates for children with preventable diseases and that it has put mental and educational development at risk. Varying economic uncertainty has also presented strain to parents and caregivers as they try to navigate and evaluate urgency of care for their children.
COVID-19 illuminated the need to re-evaluate the efficiencies of existing processes and the ability to digitally triage care.
- Before the pandemic, specialists would bring patients and their families into children’s hospitals for a half-day of testing before even seeing a doctor. Because of the many restrictions put in place due to COVID-19, children’s hospitals are realizing they can “decouple care.” This means that rather than spending hours in the hospital, patients and their families can go to outside clinics to run tests such as blood pressure checks and echocardiograms, and the specialist meeting often can be held virtually. These changes in practices can help broaden access going forward.
The future is digital for children’s hospitals.
- Like most health systems, many children’s hospitals had to condense digital roadmaps from years to weeks. What’s more, the narrative around access—and the reason for rapidly innovating—went from consumer convenience to patient safety. For example, prior to COVID-19, Boston Children’s Hospital already had texting in place for upcoming appointments. However, to enhance safety and maintain social distancing, the organization recently began piloting texting exchanges with caregivers and patients to let them know when it’s safe to leave their vehicles. Another improvement the organization made was streamlining and digitizing registration paperwork so patients and their families could provide the necessary information from home.
Children’s hospitals are working to support their communities.
- During COVID-19, children’s hospitals have not only looked for new ways to support their patients, but also give back to their broader communities. At UCSF, this meant serving as a pillar of reliable information and education by way of hosting a series of webinars for parents and expecting parents to soothe fears. At Boston Children’s it meant focusing on equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives and creating digital access models to meet all families where they are. These two organizations also discussed giving back to the larger pediatrics community, whether it was exchanging best practices with other pediatric institutions about delivering safe and effective care or shifting resources (e.g., providers) to other hospitals to provide much-needed aid to their adult care colleagues.
There has never been a greater sense of purpose and trust among the children’s healthcare community than right now. The effects of the pandemic have helped health systems cut through the red tape that has previously held back acceleration towards digital access, from “should we” move forward digitally to “how do we” move forward digitally. While the new COVID-19 norm is still being established, children’s hospitals hope to sustain the out-of-the-box thinking and forward momentum that has been developed out of necessity during this pandemic.