It is no surprise that the pandemic has been difficult for healthcare professionals. We have been bombarded with news about the stress experienced by frontline workers, the challenges for nurses in the hospital, as well as the strain on GPs and family physicians. But at this stage in the pandemic, we are also seeing pediatricians getting overwhelmed.
Why now? This is happening for a number of reasons. This is a critical point for the pediatric age group because there is currently a spike in cases among kids. Plus, the demand for vaccines has also gone up since they became available for those over 5. Additionally, pediatricians are supporting more families that are dealing with an influx in mental health issues.
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Calls Related to the Formula Shortage
Supply chain issues have caused significant disruption and delay in all types of industries, but now it is straining the supply of baby formula worldwide. Simultaneously compounded by a recall of some milk formula products, many families are now struggling to find safe ways to feed their babies and young toddlers. The formula shortage has many parents concerned and this concern is translating into a higher call volume to pediatricians as they seek answers, solutions, and advice.
Currently, the FDA is working to speed up oversees production and importation of formula. However, making, shipping, and storing baby formula according to safety guidelines may mean that relief for this problem is not coming fast enough.
Managing the Demand for Children’s Vaccines
Since October of last year, the phone lines have been ringing off the hook for pediatric physicians. As soon as vaccines were approved for use for children under the age of 12, parents began barraging doctors with questions, concerns, and requests for appointments to get their children vaccinated.
Now, parents are anxiously anticipating the approval of coronavirus vaccines for the youngest age group. According to the FDA, talks are underway to make the shots available for children ranging from 6 months of age to 5 years old. Pfizer expects that approval will be granted as early as next month. At the same time, pediatricians are urging booster shots for the 5-11 age group of patients.
The urgency to vaccinate pediatric patients was fueled by news reports of increased risks for children and rising case numbers, as well as promises of a quick rollout. And, though doctors rushed to secure the availability of doses and administer them to children, the supply was limited at first. This created a bottleneck between demand and supply from state health departments that was essentially left up to pediatricians to manage.
“We have people who call and say the President was on TV giving information that the vaccine is available to millions of children and they feel like you are not giving it to them. All the pediatric offices in this area are working very hard to accommodate everybody, but the supply of pediatric doses is limited.” – Rebecca Bowering, a practice manager at a pediatrician’s office in Michigan.
Healthcare representatives encourage parents to be patient as the rollout unfolded. Yet, this crunch caused some communities to develop other means of administering shots to children. Instead of relying solely on pediatricians to administer the vaccines, some areas are working through schools, pharmacies, and pop-up vaccine sites to relieve some of the burden on doctors’ offices.
Handling the Increase in Pediatric Covid Cases
In the past two to three months, there has been a sharp uptick in the number of COVID cases among children. The average number of diagnoses and pediatric hospitalizations has skyrocketed nationwide in recent weeks.
For example, the number of children in New York City hospitalized with COVID-19 increased five-fold from the beginning of December, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul. And this is consistent with what is happening in other states and school districts. Pediatric patients who require hospital care are just a small fraction of the children who are getting infected and feeling sick. The vast majority of children who get infected have mild symptoms which can be managed at home with the guidance of the family’s pediatrician.
At any rate, this surge in COVID contagion among kids means that pediatricians are being stretched thin while helping parents to manage symptoms and make treatment decisions. Of course, this is on top of ongoing care and checkups for regular patients.
“Our phone lines are overwhelmed with exposures, actual illnesses and people who want testing. It’s worse for the pediatrician than it’s ever been.”– Dr. Kerry Fierstein, CEO of the Allied Physicians Group
Addressing Adolescent Mental Health Risks
Following the most recent shooting attacks at schools, many children and their families are understandably frightened and anxious about their own safety. Pediatricians are receiving more calls from concerned parents about a slew of related mental health issues, including anxiety, physical signs of stress, and depression.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have also warned of a rise in mental health issues among young people. The ongoing fear, grief, and uncertainty created by COVID-19 pandemic are affecting children and teens. Many are having a hard time coping emotionally with all of the disruptions, and stress that they have experienced.
A lot of times we forget that 140,000 children in the United States have lost a parent, grandparent, or another caregiver to COVID. They have also experienced the economic hardships resulting from family members who lost jobs. The impact on their social lives and healthy lifestyle activities – such as sports, clubs, and hobbies – has been tremendous. Plus, the support network, especially for young people, has been largely disrupted by the pandemic as school, social services, and community programs were interrupted.
Though much of the evidence is anecdotal, the impact of all of this is starting to show in the statistics as well. Since the start of the pandemic, suicide rates for adolescents has risen and hospitals have admitted more kids for mental health emergencies than ever before.
“Between March and October 2020, the percentage of emergency department visits for children with mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children ages 5-11 and 31% for children ages 12-17. There was also a more than 50% increase in suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits among girls ages 12-17 in early 2021 as compared to the same period in 2019.”– CDC
Even with the protection of COVID-19 vaccines now accessible to children who are old enough for them, pandemic-related stress and traumas may have long-term consequences for children and teenagers’ growing minds. For this reason, experts recommend that parents discuss emotional health issues with their pediatricians.
Pediatricians can screen for depression and ask about other concerns like anxiety or trouble coping with stress. The doctor may also ask about these symptoms in other family members, as this can impact your child’s health, and whether they know anyone who has become sick with COVID-19. It’s important to offer your teen some time to talk one-on-one with the pediatrician during the visit to ensure they have the chance to speak as openly as possible. Many pediatricians are also offering telehealth visits during the pandemic.
“It is important to recognize there are immediate effects of the pandemic on children’s health, but importantly we need to identify and address the long-lasting impacts on the physical, mental, and social well-being of this generation of children and youth.”– American Academy of Pediatrics
Keeping in contact with patients, discussing mental health, screening for depression, assessing suicide risk – these are all especially important parts of a pediatrician’s role at the moment. Yet they are delicate matters that require time and concentration – on top of an already busy schedule. To do this effectively, some doctors are leveraging the advantages of telemedicine.
Related article: How Outsourcing Call Management Saves Your Practice Money.
Medical Office Answering Services Support Pediatricians Too
Contact PatientCalls to find out more about our dedicated doctor’s answering service. We can help your pediatric practice by handling overflow calls, after-hours’ calls, and as everyday staff augmentation.