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Telehealth and its easier access to medical care should be here to stay | READER COMMENTARY

Family Counseling Service counselor Ana Mejia is one of many mental health professionals now relying more on "telehealth services" to help those struggling with anxiety, depression and addiction during the unprecedented uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Family Counseling Service counselor Ana Mejia is one of many mental health professionals now relying more on "telehealth services" to help those struggling with anxiety, depression and addiction during the unprecedented uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. (Family Counseling Service / HANDOUT)

As pediatric health care professionals, we applaud The Baltimore Sun for the article about Maryland hospitals offering telehealth services in response to COVID-19 restrictions (“The doctor is always in," April 20).

Kennedy Krieger Institute has provided medical, therapy and support services for children and adults with disabilities or rare neurological conditions and their families for over 85 years. We were able to continue this care via telehealth once the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Kennedy Krieger has been delivering telehealth services to military-connected children and their families for over three years and quickly built on that expertise to switch most of our medical and clinical services to telehealth.

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With legislative and financial barriers to delivering care by telehealth removed, at least temporarily, this opened our services to families when they need them and where they need them. For children who require ongoing physical, occupational, speech, behavioral therapies or rare disease care, they cannot wait until this pandemic is over. Now, families can see their Kennedy Krieger specialist through a secure, private video interaction while at home. Telehealth also provides an option for families just identifying a developmental, emotional or behavioral concern with their child.

Many of the vulnerable children we serve need interdisciplinary care and services. We’ve built a telehealth system that can deliver team appointments to bring doctors, nurses, therapists, and mental health professionals “into the home” to see the child and family together as one team. And families are responding! Last week alone, Kennedy Krieger specialists conducted over 5,000 telehealth appointments.

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We are also using a tele-education platform so Kennedy Krieger Schools can continue education and related services for our students and their families.

Each year, we serve 25,000 unique patients and students — our goal is that every child and family who needs our expertise can access it during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. We recognize that not all of our patients, students and families have the equipment and resources to access telehealth (and tele-education) services which is why we are working hard to facilitate greater equity in access to these services. Telehealth is a significant innovation. We hope it will be accessible to all and here to stay.

Vera Joanna Burton, M.D., Jennifer L. Crockett and Jacqueline Stone, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, director of training for behavioral psychology and vice president of clinical programs, at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

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