Despite progress in integrated care, many pediatric facilities remain constrained by fragmentation, sub-optimal service coordination, the provision of timely intervention, problems with accessibility, and the availability of special services, etc. Digital health technology, which has been successfully integrated into other areas of healthcare to minimize such hurdles, is not routinely used for behavioral care in pediatrics.
Due to the flexibility of delivery, E-therapeutics can reduce barriers to health care, help engage and retain patients and families in services, and provide education, guidance, and community support. Such tools are especially relevant for children and caregivers with physical disabilities or special needs that limit their ability to travel to doctors’ offices or clinics.
Digital tools are particularly appealing to teens, which feel more comfortable engaging with e-technology than they do consulting healthcare providers. They can be used not only as a preventative measure against substance abuse, but also for in-the-moment intervention during an emergency. Timely delivery saves lives. Something as simple as a supportive text message to an overwhelmed diabetic teen can make a crucial difference and strengthen their commitment to treatment. Such intervention is also highly cost effective.
The strategic use of digital tools can also lead to more meaningful use of Electronic Health Records, which, in turn, can facilitate communication among providers and families, improve service coordination, and provide links to available behavioral healthcare resources. This kind of synergy is especially crucial in the case of children, whose mental health is dependent on the harmony among their multiple caretakers.
Our understanding of the environment’s impact on human development is swiftly changing. In pediatrics, environment is as potent as medication, as has been demonstrated by studies of ADHD, autism, anxiety-related conditions, and social development, in general. Live data collected with the help of sensory technology has already shown the unique affinity between environmental and biological markers that determine the trajectory of symptom development. Just as children are more dependent on the environment, so pediatric providers are more dependent on access to this information.
Finally, unlike many other forms of scientific investigation, digital research is perfectly safe for children and its findings important to patients of all ages. By virtue of their dynamic, active, and anabolic nature, children can be a source of invaluable information on the definition of the environment and its role in human well-being. The vital knowledge gained from pediatric digital research could well turn out to be a game changer benefitting the medical field at large. We should be careful not to miss this opportunity for a healthcare reset.
As a physician working primarily with children for more than two decades, I fully understand that children’s health is more than just a medical issue. I feel privileged to be a doctor and, at the same time, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to work towards making a better health care system for this vulnerable part of our population.
There is drastic shortage of child psychiatrists for our nation’s 75 million children and teens. Currently there are only 8,300 child psychiatrists nationwide, some 30,000 short of what is needed. In Massachusetts, waits of four to six weeks for a child psychiatry appointment are common, and several community mental health centers report three month waits.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has worked hard to make the government aware of the crisis of limited access to child psychiatrists. I was inspired by AACAP’s legislative program to get involved in persuading policymakers to address the shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists.
In the spirit of doing my part to address the crisis in access, I have also signed up to volunteer with the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to provide free care to homeless women and chidren in greater Boston area and I have created my website as a place where stakeholders can interact and come together on behalf of our children.
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