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Why aren’t more digital health solutions aimed at children?


Healthcare leaders say they’d like to see more products developed for kids. For tech companies, they’ll likely see less competition in pediatrics than in solutions for adults.

From the “triple-demic” to the growing mental health crisis in youth, pediatric healthcare has commanded a great deal of attention in recent months.

Panelists discuss the need for more digital health solutions aimed at children during the ViVE Conference in Nashville.

Panelists discuss the need for more digital health solutions aimed at children during the ViVE Conference in Nashville.

Children’s hospitals were packed with patients with RSV, the flu and COVID-19 in the fall and winter. With the host of viruses, John Brownstein, chief innovation officer of Boston Children’s Hospital, likened it to an “octo-demic” at a panel on pediatric health at the ViVE Conference in Nashville last week.

During a panel on pediatric care at ViVE, healthcare leaders noted the challenges in providing healthcare to children, including growing burnout among clinicians.

Despite some of the pressing problems in pediatric care, the panelists also bemoaned the fact that there are far fewer digital health solutions aimed at children than adults. They said they would like to see more tech companies devising products and devices aimed at pediatric care.

Ali Alhassani is the chief clinical officer of Summer Health, a company which allows users to send a text asking questions related to children’s healthcare needs on issues such as the flu and feeding. Parents enjoy the ease of getting answers to questions via text within minutes, he said at ViVE.

At the same time, Alhassani encouraged other founders and tech companies that are trying to gain a foothold to consider solutions aimed at pediatric care. Citing one selling point for the idea, Alhassani said tech companies will see fewer competitors in the pediatric area, compared to products aimed at adults.

“It’s a much less crowded space,” Alhassani said. “There aren’t a lot of pediatric solutions.”

Brenda Schmidt, head of enterprise growth at Redesign Health, suggested founders could develop 30 pediatric tech solutions and not overcrowd the market.

Tech companies could see opportunities for solutions designed for post-discharge monitoring, Brownstein said. Remote patient monitoring for pediatric patients could be one area where tech companies devise solutions, he said.

“It is hard to get companies to think about technologies that serve kids,” Brownstein said.

Boston Children’s is looking at designing some solutions “from the ground up,” he said. He cited Bellhop Health, which was developed at Boston Children’s and offers virtual support to parents to help children reach developmental goals and connects parents with physical, occupational and speech therapists.

Brownstein said he’d like to see products that could help keep kids from developing more serious complications requiring hospitalization.

“That is an area we could use some real resources,” Brownstein said.

Karen Wilding, vice president and chief value officer at Nemours Children's Health, said it’s difficult to find remote patient monitoring devices that will work on infants.

She also sees the potential for digital solutions allowing health systems to provide care for children outside the hospital.

“There is huge opportunity in the hospital-at-home space for children,” Wilding said.

Healthcare leaders on the pediatric panel at ViVE acknowledged some of the reasons tech companies steer clear of pediatrics. Unlike adults, particularly older individuals who need more care, the market for pediatrics is much smaller.

“Kids generally are healthier than adults. It’s hard to justify the investment in the technology,” Brownstein said.

Laurie Strongin is CEO of the Hope for Henry Foundation, a nonprofit organization which helps hospitals prepare kids to confront serious illnesses and adhere to medical plans. Strongin, who participated in the ViVE panel, said she’d welcome more investments and solutions aimed at kids.

“So much of the investment in healthcare is on the adult side,” Strongin said.

Wilding also cited another impediment. In adults, Medicare data is shared in a standard, consistent manner, but that’s not the case for data involving children, she said.

“Our ability to standardize and aggregate that information is very challenging in the pediatric space,” Wilding said.

Still, healthcare leaders agree there are profound needs for more resources and tools aimed at helping children, from critical illnesses to behavioral healthcare. They point out one seemingly obvious fact: helping kids get and stay healthy improves the chances that they will become healthy adults.

Children’s hospitals could use more partners and more digital innovation.

As Wilding said, “This is an opportunity to reflect and a call for action.”

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