Bridging Pediatric Healthcare Deserts: FirstHx’s Innovative Approach

Bridging Pediatric Healthcare Deserts: FirstHx’s Innovative Approach

April 16, 2024
Pediatric Healthcare Deserts

Author: Kate Groff, Chief Nursing Officer

Pediatric healthcare ‘deserts’

As a parent who once relied on the skill of pediatric specialists to save my one-year-old son’s life, I am intimately aware of how access to skilled teams can determine outcomes. When my son needed lifesaving critical care, we thankfully lived just minutes from a hospital equipped with pediatric services—pediatricians, pediatric nurses, pediatric respiratory specialists, and child life specialists—experts with specialized training and knowledge in caring for children.

But not all families or children are so fortunate.

Recent findings from the American Board of Pediatrics workforce data reveal glaring disparities in the standard of pediatric care available: 47% of U.S. counties lack a general pediatrician, leading to the creation of pediatric health ‘deserts.’ This phenomenon, marked by the absence of accessible pediatric care, is a significant challenge for underserved communities. The unfortunate reality is that geographic location frequently determines access to pediatric care and health outcomes for children and families.

Over 17 million children live more than an hour away from a regional children’s hospital, exacerbating health disparities in rural and under-resourced communities. Three states have no pediatric emergency physicians (Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming), and 3 states have pediatric emergency physicians in only a single county (New Mexico, North Dakota, and Alaska).

Distribution of those certified in General Pediatrics (alone) by pediatrician count

Distribution of those certified in General Pediatrics (alone) by pediatrician count

As a nurse practitioner who has worked in pediatric critical care, I understand the vital role of timely, expert pediatric care in giving sick children the best chance at survival and quality of life. My own experience underscores the importance of geographic proximity to specialized pediatric care—a factor that can be a matter of life or death. Every child, regardless of geography or socioeconomic status, deserves access to top medical expertise when they need it most.

FirstHx’s innovative approach to increasing access

I joined the team at FirstHx to be part of the solution and address this glaring gap in pediatric care. FirstHx is on a mission to democratize access to top medical expertise, helping close the pediatric care gap and ensure that every child, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status, receives the specialized care they deserve.

We are a physician-founded and clinician-led pre-engagement solution sitting at the intersection of expert clinician knowledge, evidence-based guidelines, and AI-powered technology. With pediatricians and pediatric experts on our team, our histories are designed in collaboration with pediatric specialists across every discipline to mirror the gold standard of care delivered at leading children’s hospitals. By partnering with pediatric specialists on our pediatric solution, PedsHx, we can develop detailed patient histories that capture vital information clinicians require to make accurate diagnoses and treatment plans and ensure the development of histories that work seamlessly in real-world patient care. Because we are available in multiple languages across continents, we can increase access to pediatric care beyond the borders of the U.S. and ensure that all children receive the care they need, whether for a primary care visit or a complex second opinion requiring coordination among multiple subspecialists.

As Chief Nursing Officer, my goal is to help eliminate barriers to expert pediatric care and bridge the expanding pediatric care gap. Digital health technologies hold incredible promise in addressing this gap if innovators focus on driving healthcare access, connectivity, and scale. Let’s focus our efforts on real, person-centered innovation that drives sustainable access to quality care. Investing in children’s digital health is an investment in a future where technology transforms lives. Our children’s futures depend on clinicians, innovators, health systems, and policymakers working in collaboration to prioritize children’s health and well-being. The time for change is now— we owe it to our most vulnerable patients.


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