More telemedicine support for children with Covid-19

45 paediatricians to provide free, speedy medical care to reduce waiting time and ease parents' concerns

Some 45 paediatricians have come together to provide telemedicine care for children with Covid-19, to ease the load of hospitals and designated telemedicine providers for home recovery.

The doctors have been seeing 100 to 200 cases a day since Oct 8, including those on scheduled follow-up during the home recovery programme.

This voluntary initiative comes after the Government announced on Oct 9 that home recovery will be made the default for children aged between five and 11, since the Ministry of Health (MOH) found that Covid-19 is not a serious illness among the vast majority of them.

Parents had earlier told The Straits Times that they would prefer their children to receive medical attention at a hospital due to the lack of tailored telemedicine options for children.

But now, they will be receiving calls from one of 45 doctors specialising in the care of children who are authorised by MOH to provide telemedicine support.

Dr Darryl Lim, a consultant paediatrician at Kinder Clinic, which is located within Mount Alvernia Hospital in Thomson, told ST that hundreds of children had been anxiously waiting at home when the Home Recovery Programme (HRP) began.

So the team wanted to beef up the workforce by reaching out to more children under 12 and reduce the waiting time needed for medical attention.

"We wanted to quickly assess who needed to go to the hospital and who could be on HRP," Dr Lim said.

When the HRP started, many parents who had yet to be contacted by telemedicine providers ended up taking their children to KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and National University Hospital after the children felt unwell, he noted.

Therefore, the team came up with an arrangement to provide home recovery care to children between five and 11 years old, free of charge.

"We wanted to get to them faster and reduce the number of 'pit stops' at the children's emergency departments so that the hospitals can focus on kids below five for assessment, while ensuring that those who need quick medical attention don't fall through the cracks," Dr Lim said.

KKH currently sees all paediatric patients who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 at the hospital, and those aged five and below who have been diagnosed in the community setting.

Through his prior experience in child emergency care, Dr Lim pointed out that there are different markers of clinical deterioration for Covid-19 among children, compared with adults, which may require prompt medical attention.

Some signs that paediatricians look out for include lethargy, persistent vomiting and breathlessness, which could be detected via video conferencing, said Dr Lim. These cases can then be quickly sent to the hospital for closer assessment and monitoring, he added.

While the voluntary initiative by these doctors will lighten the workload of healthcare workers in hospitals, telemedicine consultations are not without challenges.

Dr Cheng Tai Kin, who runs Kinder Clinic at Parkway East Hospital, noted how not all children are suitable for home recovery.

He said: "Some children with heart disease, very bad asthma or who are very obese, they would be at higher risk of Covid-19 complications."

Consultant Eileen Chua, 46, who has a daughter aged 10, said having direct access to a doctor is good as parents might have questions about their child's condition.

She said: "But if my child was having symptoms beyond a cough and runny nose, I would like to see a doctor in person. A child with a stomach ache may not know if it's indigestion or something more serious."