The Value of Pediatric Symptom-Checkers

A common pediatric injury is a tear in the tissue connecting the upper lip to the gum, usually the result of a fall. It's also a minor injury and will heal on its own without stitches.


It can seem anything but minor to parents, however, as the injured site will bleed every time the lip is pulled out to examine it.

"That's why in the symptom-checker, if you go to 'mouth trauma' it's all spelled out for them," says Barton Schmitt, MD, the creator of one of the world's first online symptom-checker platforms currently used on more than 200 hospitals' and physicians' websites. "It tells parents, just stop looking at it, it always heals."

Dr. Schmitt, currently the medical director of the pediatrics call center at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, keeps the symptom-checker platform updated with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other organizations. In 2009, his work was re-built as an app. Like its online counterpart, it has been approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics and extensively peer-reviewed. Since then, 12 children's hospitals have released apps under different names containing his symptom-checker, including Children's Hospital Colorado.

"I wrote [the symptom-checker] as a tool for self-triage and self-care," says Dr. Schmitt. He intends the symptom-checker to help parents determine the nature of their child's illness or injury and the best treatment option, from a trip to the emergency department to at-home care. "It's for smart parents who want some control over where their copay and travel time go," says Dr. Schmitt.

The platform has proven popular among parents. The symptom-checker is featured on the Children's Hospital Colorado website, and it has garnered 336,000 visitors and 438,000 page views in the past year. Eighty-eight percent of the visitors to the symptom-checker are first-time visitors to the hospital's site.

Dr. Schmitt has helped other hospitals incorporate the platform into their patient offerings. St. Louis Children's Hospital already had the symptom-checker on its website, and the popularity of the online platform prompted the creation of an app, says Kay Franks, the hospital's marketing manager.

"Since launch, we've had about 37,000 downloads and average about 600 per month," says Ms. Franks, who only markets their app, KidCare, in a few states. She knows parents find value in the app because she receives feedback like the following:

Tonight my 5 year old sky rocketed a fever -he had a fibril seizer at 9month and I have been crazy about fevers and stop watches with meds eversince. Of course in the middle of the night tonight he jumped up to the 104 degrees. After reading scary blogs on fevers and horror stories I remembered Ihad this app. What a blessing! It reconfirmed dosages and that 104 is ok — just be aware. Now I can sleep and get a restful 4 hours in before the nextdosage. Thanks from a neurotic mom in the middle of the night in Montana :-)

"We wanted to be there to help parents make good health decisions," says Ms. Franks. "I believe our parents find value in the app."

Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, part of University Hospitals, also has a version of Dr. Schmitt's symptom-checker on the hospital's website as a tool for parents. "We added it because we know there's a lot of information on the Web, and we wanted to make sure our parents had access to the correct information," says Drew Hertz, MD, vice president and medical director of Rainbow Care Connection, the hospital's accountable care organization. "We wanted to make sure our parents know when to call a doctor or come in, and when to take care of it on their own."

Helping patients seek out the right avenue of care often means healthcare resources are used more effectively. Dr. Schmitt recalls that, in an online exit survey of users of the platform as it appears on a dozen pediatricians' websites, 94 percent of parents had a positive experience with the symptom-checker. Additionally, for 72 percent of respondents, using the symptom-checker saved them a call or visit to a physician.

"The purpose [of the symptom-checker] has always been to reduce unnecessary calls to doctors or trips to the emergency room," says Dr. Schmitt. "We want parents, if it's a true emergency, to call 911. But if they're not sure if they need to go to the emergency room, we want them to take three minutes to use a symptom-checker without automatically reaching for the phone or their car keys."

As the head of an ACO, Dr. Hertz of Rainbow Babies & Children's sees the redirection of patients away from more expensive, unnecessary care as the value of symptom-checkers. Symptom-checkers "are very consistent with the spirit of healthcare reform," says Dr. Hertz. The tools help ensure patients receive care in the most appropriate, and cost-efficient, setting. "It's all about getting patients the right care," he says.  

More Articles on Symptom-Checkers:

Physicians Begin to Embrace Online Symptom-Checkers
Survey: 27% of Patients Use Web-Based HIT to Circumvent Physician Visits
Mayo Clinic's App and the Future of Patient Engagement 

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars