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The Unhealthy State of Children's Healthcare

Mar 08, 2013 | Updated May 08, 2013

It is well known fact that pediatric specialists are in high demand but short supply in the United States and around the world. Sixteen U.S. states have fewer than one pediatric subspecialist under age 65 per 100,000 residents, according to the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions. As a result, many children and their families are forced to travel long distances to get adequate care. In some regions, patients may wait as long as three to six months for an appointment.

But the ready availability of pediatric subspecialists is fundamental to children's health. For example, childhood obesity is rising in the United States, and with it, childhood diabetes--a condition that is most appropriately managed by pediatric endocrinologists. If not treated early, such chronic conditions can result in significant complications and illnesses that affect the child in adulthood. Studies have also found that subspecialists improve the quality of care, lower complications, and decrease medical costs through more effective treatment and shorter hospital stays.

The current system can also lead to inconsistent knowledge and information exchange between patients, primary care pediatricians, and pediatric specialists. Consequently, children with complex care requirements receive less effective care and experience poor outcomes. To compound the problem, research funding for children's complex diseases is low. The National Cancer Institute allocates only 4% of research funding to pediatric cancer and pharmaceutical companies fund 60% of adult oncology research but virtually no pediatric cancer research.

Cisco's primary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts in healthcare focus on improving access to and quality of care for children in all parts of the world. Our recent work with Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, California is using telehealth technologies to connect specialist physicians to patients who live in distant communities.

Dr. Bill Kennedy, a pediatric urologist at Packard Children's, recently talked about the benefits of improved capacity through telehealth at the Social Innovation Summit in San Jose, California. Dr. Kennedy is able to conduct virtual visits with patients in Monterey County, 83 miles away, with the help of Cisco HealthPresence solution. A new expansion of this telehealth network extends Dr. Kennedy's reach to the urban underserved in San Francisco.

In a single day, Dr. Kennedy was able to see patients in both Monterey and San Francisco without leaving Packard Hospital. And Dr. Kennedy is more than pleased to see how comfortable kids are in front of the camera--even during a urology exam. "Children have grown up using iPods and iPhones, so the fear of interacting with someone over a video link is not there," Dr. Kennedy observes.

Complex children's healthcare typically requires collaboration among multiple specialist physicians for optimal outcomes. Our care-at-a-distance technologies not only connect doctors to patients, but doctors to doctors for truly collaborative care and the sharing of medical knowledge. The power of the network allows us to connect and improve lives as never before.

Learn more about Cisco's Corporate Social Responsibility: csr.cisco.com