Objective: Real-time audiovisual consultation (telemedicine) has been proven feasible and is a promising alternative to interfacility transfer. We sought to describe caregiver perceptions of the decision to transfer his or her child to a pediatric emergency department and the potential use of telemedicine as an alternative to transfer.
Methods: Semistructured interviews of caregivers of patients transferred to a pediatric emergency department. Purposive sampling was used to recruit caregivers of patients who were transferred from varying distances and different times of the day. Interviews were conducted in person or on the phone by a trained interviewer. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using modified grounded theory.
Results: Twenty-three caregivers were interviewed. Sixteen (70%) were mothers; 57% of patients were transported from hospitals outside of the city limits. Most caregivers reported transfer for a specific resource need, such as a pediatric subspecialist. Generally, caregivers felt that the decision to transfer was made unilaterally by the treating physician, although most reported feeling comfortable with the decision. Almost no one had heard about telemedicine; after hearing a brief description, most were receptive to the idea. Caregivers surmised that telemedicine could reduce the risks and cost associated with transfer. However, many felt telemedicine would not be applicable to their particular situation.
Conclusions: In this sample, caregivers were comfortable with the decision to transfer their child and identified potential benefits of telemedicine as either an adjunct to or replacement of transfer. As hospitals use advanced technology, providers should consider families' opinions about risks and out-of-pocket costs and tailoring explanations to address individual situations.