Children seeking medical care online or through a smartphone may be prescribed antibiotics they don't need, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in "Pediatrics" on Monday.
The researchers examined 4,604 telemedicine visits, 38,408 urgent care trips and 485,201 primary care visits of children who were infants through 17 years old using claims data from a national commercial health plan. Children who had other symptoms or infections, such as a urinary tract infection, weren't included since those may have contributed to the physician's decision to prescribe medication.
The study comes at a time when direct-to-consumer, or DTC, telemedicine visits are on the rise and technology is playing a larger role in combining home health care and physician offices. CFS partnered with virtual care leader Teladoc and opened its virtual Minute Clinic last August, allowing people over 2 years old to see a doctor via an app for about $ 60. Other companies are following suit.
Telemedicine companies stress the convenience or not having to leave home. Roughly 96% of large business insurance plans offer coverage for telemedicine visits, according to the study. That's leading to an increase in children's access and use, researchers added.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to discourage telemedicine visits for children with acute symptoms. There's the lack of physical examination, limited access to patient records, decrease in privacy and lack of a patient-provider relationship that may lead to lower-quality care, according to the study. Also, children may have difficulty verbalizing their symptoms, making it harder for a physician to diagnose an illness.
"Together these issues may increase clinical uncertainty during pediatric DTC telemedicine visits, prompting physicians to prescribe antibiotics 'just to be safe,'" authors wrote.