Gone are the days of waiting in a doctor’s office when your kid is sick with the sniffles. With telemedicine, parents have the freedom of accessing virtual appointments from their smartphone or computer. For many parents or caregivers, telemedicine has become the go-to option for diagnosis when cold symptoms start to appear. So, what could possibly go wrong? Well, one new study has found that pediatricians have been overprescribing antibiotics in kids.

"I understand the desire for care that's more convenient and timely, but we want to make sure that we don't sacrifice quality or safety or effectiveness in the process,” said Dr. Kristin Ray, the study's lead author.

According to the study, kids with sinus and cold symptoms who were seen via a telemedicine appointment were more likely to be prescribed antibiotics when compared to those seen at the doctor’s office or urgent care clinic. Furthermore, clinical guidelines, which are put in place to prevent the misuse antibiotics, were less likely to be followed after a telemedicine visit (about 59%). Ignoring guidelines could have serious health consequences. Research suggests that when antibiotics aren’t used properly, it can lead to an increased risk of bacterial resistance and side effects. 

While the study couldn’t exactly specify the reason why pediatricians are overprescribing antibiotics, researchers theorized that it may be due to the inability to physically examine the patient. In cases of sinus and cold symptoms, the only true way to accurately diagnose a patient would involve properly examining parts of the body like the ear and throat. With telemedicine, physicians often have to rely on symptoms as described by the patient – severely limiting their ability to distinguish between cold and viral infections.

“Healthcare providers treating children who cannot fully articulate symptoms are usually more reliant on physical examination findings in order to develop diagnosis and treatment plans; these capabilities may be limited, particularly in direct-to-consumer telemedicine, compared to facilities designed for telemedicine consultation,” said Karen Lee, M.D., program director of NICHD’s Child Development and Behavior branch.

Why This Matters –

The world around us is going digital – whether we’re ready for it or not. In healthcare, companies are pushing forward to develop tech that can provide you with a diagnosis no matter where you are. And with just about 96% of large business insurance plans covering the cost of virtual visits, it’s clear that telemedicine is here to stay. But, without the proper rules and regulations in place, virtual visits can easily cross the line between convenient and consequential.

“Targeted improvement initiatives have the potential to substantially improve the quality of care delivered via direct-to-consumer telemedicine. Pediatric-specific guidelines and metrics should be incorporated into such efforts,” authors of the study wrote.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.