When the COVID-19 pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, health care for children across the nation changed. Doctors quickly turned to telehealth to continue providing the specialized care that children with special needs and chronic illnesses vitally needed.

Continual care is especially critical for patients of the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. The Stramski Center cares for children — from birth to age 21 — with behavioral and developmental conditions, such as autism, Fragile X syndrome, ADHD/ADD, Down syndrome, learning disabilities and more.

An initial assessment for a child with autism involves gathering information about the child’s developmental history and their behaviors from parents, caregivers and/or teachers. Prior to COVID-19, families would have to come in for an appointment to complete their child’s history. But the Stramski Center began doing those initial visits over the phone.

“Luckily for many of our patients, we don’t always have to do a physician examination, so this transition was easier and worked well for our initial visits,” says Gary Feldman, M.D., medical director, Stramski Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s. “As we continued to explore virtual options for observations and follow-up appointments, we began to notice some unique benefits, specifically for our patients with autism.”

A medical appointment can often include a lot of waiting and many families come to the Stramski Center from a far distance, so there may be issues with transportation, managing schedules of other children, and during the pandemic, managing virtual school has became an added challenge.

“Normally, an in-person visit can be a stressful experience for a child with autism and their family,” says Dr. Feldman. “By doing a virtual visit via videoconference, the parents are more relaxed, stress levels come down and it’s often easier to relate to the family because it’s a less formal setting.”

According to Dr. Feldman, virtual visits provide insight into the patients home life that otherwise would not be observed during an in-person visit. The physician can now observe the parent-child dynamic, and spontaneity of the child, which gives the care team a better picture of their normal behavior. In turn, this helps the care team determine the best support and interventions needed for the child.

Telehealth will continue to be used as a tool as COVID-19 remains a health issue facing the nation, but Dr. Feldman feels that this tool and its benefits will last long after COVID-19.

“While COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to health care, we were able to find some positives,” said Dr. Feldman. “By transitioning some of our initial visits away from in-person, it makes everything more efficient.”

While not every visit is appropriate for virtual options, in many ways it’s better for families. And at the end of the day, the goal of the care team at Miller Children’s & Women’s is to do what’s best for patients and their families.