How to Prepare Kids for Telehealth Appointments

by Tanni Haas, Ph.D.

As the pandemic drags on, parents are understandably nervous about taking the kids to the doctor’s office for fear that they might catch the virus there. An alternative form of doctor’s visits that you may want to consider are telehealth appointments where you and the kids meet with the doctor virtually on the computer from the safety of your home. How do you best prepare for such visits? Here’s what the experts suggest: 

Have Information Ready

Since you’ll be visiting virtually from your home, you need to assist the doctor by having relevant information ready at your fingertips before the session begins. This includes, says pediatrician Dr. Claire McCarthy and child allergist and immunologist Dr. Tamara Perry, your child’s height, weight, temperature, and current medications. If it is a sick visit, also include details about the issue, like when it began, the severity of the issue, and medications you’ve already tried. If your child has a rash or another visible ailment, take photos and either upload them to their patient portal ahead of time or be ready to show them to the doctor during the consultation.    

Assist The Doctor

You can also assist the doctor, Dr. McCarthy says, by dressing your kids lightly and making sure there’s enough space where you’re sitting for the doctor to see your child walk around and lie down, if necessary. Have a pen and paper ready so that you can take notes on the diagnosis and treatment plan, as well as the name, address, and phone number of the pharmacy to which you’d like the doctor to call in any medications. 

Prepare The Kids  

Talk to your kids about what to expect during the consultation in advance, and try to alleviate any anxiety or fears that they may have. By now, most kids are familiar and comfortable with online school instruction, but answering personal questions and talking at length about their health via a computer to a doctor is new to them. “Have a conversation with your child about what remote care is,” says Katherine Martinelli of the Child Mind Institute, “and ask if they have any questions or concerns.” That’ll help put them at ease before the session starts. 

Maintain Privacy

Put your kids at ease by making the consultation as private as possible. “Provide a private room if you can,” Ms. Martinelli says, “and make sure that siblings and other family members don’t interrupt.” Dr. Erica Lee, a child psychologist, agrees: “turn on the television or play music at a low volume in the next room, use headphones, or use a noise machine to create a cocoon of privacy.” 

Stay Or Leave

 If your child is young, stay with them during the consultation, on your lap if possible, to make them feel safe and secure. You may need to answer most of the doctor’s questions for them, or help them explain to the doctor how they’re feeling. If they’re older, Dr. McCarthy says, “leave the room and don’t listen at the door.” Make sure that your child understands that the same etiquette applies for telehealth appointments as for online school instruction. Make sure they focus on the task at hand and, “avoid things like eating a meal or scrolling through social media,” says Ms. Martinelli. 

Test Computer Equipment

No matter how familiar you and the kids are with technology, test all the hardware and software that you’ll need for the consultation prior to the appointment. This includes your laptop or tablet (and the audio and video), the website or applications that the doctor will be using, the internet browser that supports the website or application (e.g., some only work on Chrome or Firefox), as well as any software that you may have to download and use. “This way,” Ms. Martinelli says, “you won’t waste precious minutes dealing with technical difficulties.”

Tips from Local Parents

“Get your kids energy out before the appointment. There is nothing worse than having to continuously ask your child to stay sitting and to stop running around. In a typical pediatrician setting, the doctor can see them in the room—even if they are walking around. Keep in mind that you need to try to keep them within the screen view for the doctor.” –Kelly F., Clovis

“Since my kids are homeschooled this year, they don’t really have any experience video chatting in a professional manner. Having a family member call and talk with them helped them practice how to have a serious conversation versus a chat with their friends.” –Lara R., Fresno

“Don’t forget about the other members in the house, including any pets. Have a plan to keep other kids occupied. Make sure your other kids know that they shouldn’t disrupt you unless it is an absolute emergency. If you have any pets, you’ll also want to have a plan in place to keep them from disrupting the appointment. If you have a dog that barks at any noise, you may want to consider setting them up in another room with a long-lasting chew. Or having one of your other kids take the dog on a walk.” –Keith A., Fresno

“Remember that this is still a regular doctor’s appointment. Be prepared to wait between speaking with the nurse and the doctor. Make sure to take notes, be prepared with questions, and respect the doctor’s time and other appointments.” –Janelle G., Visalia

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