It’s an uncertain time for everyone, and while talking about the pandemic in age-appropriate terms and explaining new rules and safety measures can help kids cope, it’s natural for children to pick up on adult fears and worries. Children and adolescents with pre-existing mental or behavioral health conditions or with disabilities may struggle even more to change hard-won routines or to learn new ones. Parents can be in danger of stress and burnout too, making current circumstances even more difficult for families. Here, we’ve collected strategies and tips for physicians caring for kids’ emotional health.
Telemedicine not only offers direct contact with families isolating at home, but it’s also a wise business decision. When a visit takes 15 minutes and a parent doesn’t have to pack the family into the car, disrupting work, school, and feeding schedules, it’s more convenient and relaxing for the whole family, which results in a happier, more productive visit. Bonus? Relaxed parents have more time and wherewithal to prepare beforehand with questions, take temperatures and weights, and complete pre-visit forms.
In an earlier post, Dr. Jeanne Marconi described how she was grateful to have even a spare few minutes to talk to adolescents about how they’re holding up amidst the huge changes going on in their lives. Some may not attend graduation or participate in beloved sports, art performances, hobbies, or simple quality time with friends. Telemedicine or phone visits may be a much-needed intervention for kids struggling with remote learning, behavior at home, or who are suddenly struggling with increased stress, which can present as stomach pains, canker sores, or sleep issues.
Recall, Recall, Recall
Now is the time to recall patients! As Chip Hart has said in several of the COVID-19 Business Impact webinars hosted by The Pediatric Management Institute, if your patient volumes are low, take the opportunity of time -- rare for any pediatrician -- to recall patients who you haven’t seen, who are overdue for immunizations, or who need a check in for disabilities, mood disorders, controlled substances, or behavioral care plans.
Behavioral Healthcare Team
Now is also a great time not only to recall, recall, recall, but to refer too. If your behavioral health team includes physicians and staff who are still working at the office, they can check in with families as they visit drive-thru clinics or arrive for well visits -- simple inquiries of “How are you feeling? How is remote learning?” can help you build an understanding of how patients in general are doing.
Networking with local therapists and specialists can make referrals smoother and transitions easier for families. Need advice? Consultations are a great tool to help your patient thrive.
These tips and more can help any practice make their behavioral health practices thrive. If your office doesn’t have integrated behavioral health, you may want to check out PCC’s eBook, “Integrated Behavioral Health: A Guide to Expanding Access”. In it, we guide you through your options for integrating behavioral health on any budget by building your referral network and coordinating with local therapists and experts.
Be a Lighthouse for Struggling Families
Sometimes, families or patients in the throes of mental illness, physical illness, or turmoil may not think to call their pediatrician for advice on matters like sibling fights, oversleeping teens, or toddler regressions. Using communication and marketing strategies, you can offer resources to families like a lighthouse to a struggling ship.
Reaching out to your families with an email or text can offer some calm in the storm by introducing clear, accessible opportunities for parents to make a move. With messaging platforms such as those available from services like MailChimp or from PCC’s new broadcast messaging feature, practices can outline new schedules, remind families of mental health services, and simply offer support.
On May 20, 2020, the AAP launched its #CallYourPediatrician campaign. Visit their campaign page for details on using humor and facts to encourage and reassure parents bringing their children to the pediatrician. Use the included campaign materials on your social media and start a conversation!
You can also reach out to families through through social media. For example, staff at Pearland Pediatrics in Texas got waves of support from families when they began releasing fun videos of staff showing off new cleanliness and visit procedures. Pearland also began promoting basket raffles to get families engaged and talking. Engaging in conversation with families builds trust, deepens relationships, and lets them know you’re not only ready to help them, but prepared to adapt at a moment’s notice.
Every family is different -- whether they’re a single parent, working from home with young kids, or trying to cope with job loss or a sick family member, it’s important to remember that the best environment for a child to be emotionally well is one where their caregivers have stability and support too. Here are some resources for parents to take care of their own health and wellness in order to better promote a safe, loving environment for their kids.
- Our previous post on common parenting questions during the pandemic.
- The Child Mind Institute offers resources on parenting, accessing mental healthcare, remote learning, and more.
- Online support groups such as these ones from the Cleveland Clinic
- Was your practice the host or coordinator of newborn, sleep, lactation, or other parenting classes pre-pandemic? Consider taking these classes online through Zoom or Google Hangouts.
- These posters from the W.H.O. offer advice for parents on spending time with kids, maintaining a flexible structure, and staying positive.
The stresses that families and practices are under are unprecedented, but they are also familiar. With these resources and preparations in mind, your practice can be proactive in caretaking kids’ emotional health, families’ wellbeing, and ultimately, help your practice thrive too.
For more information on integrating behavioral health into your pediatric practice, be sure to check out PCC’s ebook on the subject. We share how to form professional networks, share a space or a practice with mental health experts, and how these tools help kids succeed.