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Can My Child Do Telemedicine for Sleep Problems?

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have learned to love telemedicine.  Telemedicine keeps kids out of offices where they might catch a virus, it saves on travel time and gas money, and can allow parents to see to their children's medical needs without having to take time off work.  Telemedicine may work fine for an ear infection or allergy issues, but is there a place for it in pediatric sleep medicine?  A new study published in Sleep Medicine Clinics says yes—depending on your child’s particular disorder.

When Telemedicine for Sleep Issues Works

The study’s authors looked at telemedicine in the context of a variety of pediatric sleep disorders.   They found telemedicine worked as well as in-office appointments for:

  • Movement issues like restless leg syndrome
  • Insomnia
  • Circadian rhythm disorders

In these disorders, a sleep visit often takes the form of listening to a description of the child’s symptoms and offering medicines or therapies to try.  A physical examination of the patient isn’t necessary.

Researchers found that even asynchronous appointments, like discussions by text and email, could help many parents and children cope with sleep issues. In addition, children with insomnia did well when they received cognitive behavioral therapy through telehealth, even when it was via asynchronous sessions.   The advantages of telemedicine for sleep issues mean that more children could receive timely treatment for sleep-related issues.

When Your Child Needs To Be Seen in a Medical Office

There was one sleep issue in particular that did not benefit from telehealth treatments.  Researchers found that children with suspected obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) need to be seen in an office. This is because the tongue, tonsils, throat, palate, and teeth can play key roles in OSA.   Looking for physical issues can help a doctor decide if a child needs a sleep study.  Also, an office visit gives practitioners a chance to check a child's vital signs.  Because OSA can cause breathing and cardiovascular symptoms during the daytime, it's important for kids to be seen.

One way to get kids into an office for a sleep screen without losing additional school or work time is to have the initial OSA screen performed at a dental office that also provides sleep medicine services. You can arrange for your child to be screened during their regular 6-month dental appointment, and minimize the number of office visits for your family.   If the dentist thinks your child needs a sleep study, they can refer you to an appropriate ENT or another physician for the study.

It's hard to balance appointments and daily life, and telemedicine can help relieve some of the burdens on parents.  It's important to get sleep issues identified and treated as early as possible, so that your kids can succeed in school, in the family, and in life.