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Can I use telehealth for my child with special health care needs?

Telehealth can be used to support children and families with unique health care needs.

Screen images of two tablets- first with view of provider and second featuring mother and child.

What should I know about telehealth if my child has special health care needs?

When your child has special medical needs, you want the best care for them. Telehealth may be able to help.

  • Same care, more comfort. Even though telehealth is virtual, your child will get the same care as in a provider’s office. But your child can have the visit in the place where they feel most comfortable.
  • Less stress. With telehealth you may not need to travel to the health care appointment. You may not need to wait in an office. This means less worries for both you and your child.
  • No germs. Other patients at your provider’s office may have germs. With telehealth, your child will have less exposure.

Tip: Read more about telehealth visits for your child with special health care needs (PDF).

How can telehealth help with family-centered care?

When your child has special health care needs, getting good health care is a team effort. That is what family-centered care is all about — teamwork between you, your child, and health care providers. Telehealth can help with family-centered care.

  • Safe at home. Telehealth visits from home are often more relaxed. Health care settings can be overwhelming for your child and make them scared or have problems focusing.
  • Quality time. With telehealth, you can have more one-on-one time with your child’s health care provider. You can also have a private conversation with the provider before your child joins the visit. This is a time to discuss any sensitive topics or your child’s emotional needs without them overhearing.
  • Flexible schedule. Families often have a busy schedule with lots of appointments. Telehealth means less time traveling and away from home.

What can I expect during my child’s telehealth exam?

Getting ready for a telehealth visit with your child’s health care provider is important. Here is how to make it a smooth experience:

  • Share information. Before the visit, tell the provider about any behaviors, special assistive devices, or sensitive topics that you want to discuss. This helps them prepare and provide better care.
  • Dress comfortably. Dress your child in loose clothing that makes it easy for them to move. This is especially important if the provider asks you to show a part of the body.
  • Prepare information. Be ready to discuss your child’s health, medications, diagnoses, allergies, recent illnesses or surgeries, and their social and emotional well-being.
  • Be equal partners. Remember, you are an equal partner in your child’s health care. You should share your opinions, concerns, and questions during the visit.
  • Engage your child. Your child should be a part of their health care, even if they have challenges with verbal communication. The provider should address your child directly, make eye contact, and include them in the conversation.
  • Ask questions. Do not hesitate to ask the provider to explain anything that you don't fully understand.
  • Take notes. Keep a pen and paper near you. Write down important thoughts before and during the visit.
  • Discuss next steps. Before ending the telehealth visit, the provider should talk about what comes next. This could involve scheduling follow-up visits, tests, referrals, medication changes, or plans to address behavior or emotions.

With these steps, your child’s telehealth visit can be a productive and comfortable experience for both you and your child.

How can I support my child during a virtual visit?

Children may have different reactions to health care visits, including telehealth appointments. Here is how to make your child more at ease during a virtual visit:

  • Practice ahead of time. Use any video conferencing platform to practice the virtual visit with your child. Role-play and take turns pretending to be the provider. This can help your child become familiar with the process.
  • Answer questions. Ask your child if they have any questions before their telehealth visit. Provide answers when you can or take notes to ask the provider later.
  • Choose a comfortable place. Find a place that is familiar to your child This could be their bedroom, the kitchen, a playroom, or a quiet room at school.
  • Minimize distractions. Remove anything that could distract your child during the telehealth visit. This could be other people, pets, or noisy toys and electronics.
  • Bring a comfort item. Some children find comfort when they have a small, quiet item next to them during the telehealth visit. This could be a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or doll.
  • Encourage participation. Guide your child to actively participate in the virtual visit. Your child should be encouraged to ask questions, discuss their feelings (even with a thumbs up or thumbs down sign), and advocate for themselves.

By following these steps, you can help your child feel more comfortable and engaged during their telehealth visit.

More information:

How do I use telehealth for behavioral health care? — Health Resources and Services Administration

National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs Chartbook — Health Resources and Services Administration

Telehealth for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (PDF) — Health Resources and Services Administration

What can be treated through telehealth? — Health Resources and Services Administration

Get tips to help your child participate in virtual visits (PDF) — Family Voices

What is family-centered telehealth? (PDF) — Family Voices

Nuts and bolts of telemedicine: Essential for a family-centered experience — Family Voices