How the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted children with disabilities, caregivers and healthcare providers

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  • Telemedicine has been a solution in helping children with special needs get medical help
  • Children with disabilities are at risk of contracting Covid-19 from their caregivers and family members 
  • Special needs children who have respiratory problems are at risk of facing complications should they contract the virus

A new issue of the Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine that assessed the impact of Covid-19 on children with disabilities, caregivers and healthcare providers found that there is an increase in the adoption of telehealth across many medical specialties.

The growing importance of telemedicine

Researchers found that telemedicine became one of the ways that paediatric patients with special needs, their caregivers, and healthcare providers could mitigate the impact of the virus and to lower the chances of transmission.

The findings of a survey of apediatric physiatrists showed a significant increase in telehealth utilisation since the Covid-19 pandemic, from less than 15% to 97%. From those who were surveyed, more than 80% healthcare providers reported feeling comfortable using telehealth, while 77% felt confident in the quality of the care provided, and 91% believed patients were satisfied with telehealth visits.

"Responses indicate that telehealth is expected to play a role in future paediatric physiatry and interest in telehealth continuing medical education is prevalent. Most pediatric physiatrists plan to continue or expand telehealth offerings after Covid-19," said Dr Anton Dietzen, who conducted the survey, in a press release.

Other experts in the journal also say that Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine for children with special needs.

 "There has been an expansion of telemedicine offerings by many different pediatric rehabilitation providers. Historically, paediatric rehabilitation patients are more difficult to transport, may come from a more challenged socioeconomic background, and have more medical co-morbidities than the general pediatric population.

"By more clinics offering telemedicine appointments, this may limit exposures to Covid-19 and decrease the caregiver burden if medical care can be provided within the home setting," explained Dr Christian Vercler, and Dr Matthew McLaughlin, who were guest authors.

Why the impact of Covid-19 on children with special needs is important

Experts say that children with pre-existing respiratory disorders such as cerebral palsy are at greater risk for respiratory complications if they contract Covid-19. Some may have multisystem inflammatory syndrome and will need supportive care.

"We need to be vigilant in encouraging and supporting families of children with cerebral palsy and individuals who have cerebral palsy to practice physical distancing, good hand hygiene, minimising trips to public places such as stores and restaurants, and thorough cleaning of any equipment that is used outside the home (such walkers and wheelchairs) in order to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19," said Dr Joline Brandenburg.

Healthcare providers would also need to plan for deliverance of medical services for children with disabilities while also being considerate of those who live in marginalised communities in the United States.

The risk of of children with special needs contracting the new Covid-19 virus is also directly related to caregivers and family members that share their living arrangements, explained Dr Maurice Sholas.

“Individual providers, health systems and policy interventions must be accountable and active to ensure that marginalised communities do not continue to be disproportionately impacted," Sholas said.

READ | Covid-19: Life under lockdown for people living with disabilities

READ | As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, here’s how you can be happier in 2021, according to a psychologist

READ | How lockdown could affect South Africa’s children with special needs

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