Lessons learned from the pandemic and ‘tridemic’ present an opportunity for health systems to design solutions that benefit tech-savvy families, as well as children at high risk of poor health outcomes.

Today’s parents live by their phones and are far ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new technology to seamlessly coordinate family life. But when it comes to their desire to use technology to manage their children’s health care needs, many parents find that health systems are lagging behind.

“Parents have been conditioned by everyday shopping experiences at Whole Foods, Target, Amazon, and other retailers to expect a seamless, smartphone-based interface with their health care providers,” said Zahid Rathore, Senior Vice President at Healthlink Advisors. “Nearly everything about managing a family — from ordering groceries to accessing homework assignments to checking the soccer schedule — can now be done on a smartphone, and scheduling a doctor’s appointment or sending a message to the pediatrician should be no exception.”

In fact, research shows that parents and caregivers are not only comfortable with technology, but they also want to use it to communicate directly with members of their care team and self-schedule appointments. Parents are looking for a consolidated “one-stop-shop” where they can access their medical record, test results, and appointment history.

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic — and ‘Tridemic’

Rathore said during the pandemic — and the more recent ‘tridemic’ of RSV, flu, and COVID in 2023 — the need for pediatric care providers to implement this streamlined functionality has become even more apparent.

“Families were hit hard with contagious illnesses in 2023, and many weren’t able to easily schedule appointments with their pediatricians,” said Rathore. “This pushed families toward urgent or emergency care — which may provide more convenient, on-demand access, but often require higher co-pays that could be a hardship for some families.”

Supply chain issues compounded the problems, making it difficult to find commonly prescribed medications. Some families were forced to travel to distant pharmacies to fill prescriptions — sometimes resulting in higher prescription costs, more time away from work, or worse, going without the medication altogether and risking an exacerbation that would have been preventable.

An Opportunity to Enhance Access through Improved Interfaces

According to Rathore, these trends and lessons present pediatric providers with a tremendous opportunity to enhance their interfaces to provide parents and caregivers with solutions that meet their needs.

“The ‘retail-ization’ of the healthcare industry was a hot topic in the 2010s, and health systems started developing apps,” said Rathore. “Now, instead of apps that require downloading and issue notifications that parents are less likely to read, the next iteration of this trend involves finding ways to leverage the phone’s native functionality — such as pushing notifications and accepting confirmations through text.”

However, Rathore said it’s also important for health systems to identify and address the needs of families who have limited access to technology or communication barriers such as limited English proficiency — especially if the children are a high-risk of poor health outcomes.

“Pediatric providers need to look at the characteristics of the families they serve and develop solutions tailored to the needs of those populations,” said Rathore. “Things like translating communications into other languages spoken in the area; capturing, utilizing and storing communication and language preferences; and offering parallel workflows that don’t require certain technologies — such as a call from a human being who speaks the appropriate language to confirm an appointment — are things that health systems could consider.”

And sometimes, there needs to be a catalyst for implementing new, access-enhancing technology, Rathore said.

“The pandemic led to the rapid propagation of telehealth due to the huge demand for virtual visits,” said Rathore. “Telehealth technology struggled to catch on for years, but providers saw a need during COVID and made it happen — and the same concept applies to enhancing communications interfaces in pediatrics.”

Optimizing Patient Satisfaction and Health Outcomes

For CIOs and their teams — who may already be overwhelmed and over-budget with existing projects — creating family-friendly interfaces may feel low on the priority list. But Rathore said hiring a team of experts can help IT teams tailor updates to maximize patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

“After fully understanding the needs of the health system and the families, our team will assess what can be done in the existing EMR and if necessary, augment it with a bolt-on solution or parallel workflow that integrates with the organization’s current strategy,” said Rathore.

Looking toward the future, opportunities to enhance care delivery and improve the patient experience abound. For example, creating an interface with local pharmacies could allow pediatric care providers to see which medications are in stock at individual locations, as well as how much they cost, before sending a prescription — creating a more positive experience for every family and better serving at-risk patients who may have more difficulty navigating the healthcare system.

“Although it may be tempting to analyze numbers and clicks, meaningful feedback from parents and caregivers is key for pediatric providers looking to revamp their patient interfaces,” said Rathore. “Health systems need to find out what their patients value and design systems accordingly — so every family can access the care their child needs.”

Zahid Rathore is Senior Vice President at Healthlink Advisors, a healthcare consulting firm committed to improving clinical innovation, business systems and healthcare IT strategy, delivery, and operations. Our team has extensive experience developing IT solutions to support all aspects of health system operations, including pediatric patient and family interfaces.