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Pediatric Patient Education Strategies for RSV, Respiratory Illness

Omnichannel communication strategies have been central to Nemours Children’s Health patient education strategy targeting RSV and respiratory illness in kids.

Jonathan Miller, MD, a pediatrician with Nemours Children’s Health, is dancing his way through RSV symptom checks in an innovative approach to patient education during the nation’s RSV and respiratory illness crisis.

The dance, posted as a Reel on the healthcare organization’s Instagram account, is racking up thousands of likes and even more views, but its intent is about more than just brand recognition.

“Children’s hospitals across the nation – including Nemours Children’s Health – are seeing a rise in RSV cases, which makes it increasingly important to ensure there is factual information that people can readily access about the virus’ symptoms and treatment options, as well as preventative measures that can be taken to help kids stay safe,” according to Drew Landmeier, the chief marketing officer for Nemours Children’s Health.

“Since RSV symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses, including the flu and COVID-19, parents need to understand what course of action to take to ensure their child gets the proper care while minimizing risk of infection for others around them,” Landmeier told PatientEngagementHIT via email.

RSV—respiratory syncytial virus—cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pre-pandemic, the US might see a handful of RSV cases a week during peak season. But more recently, those numbers have reached the thousands. In the week ending October 29, 2022, the most recent week for which the CDC has data, there were 7,119 RSV detections in the country.

Nemours Children’s health is assuring parents and caregivers that most cases have mild symptoms that can be managed at home. But in some cases, RSV can escalate, and kids might experience wheezing, bronchiolitis or pneumonia, and dehydration. The children’s hospital said it’s important for parents to know the signs and symptoms to understand the severity of their child’s case and when they need to escalate care access.

Then comes in the video featuring Miller, the medical director of the Value-Based Services Organization Office and chief of Delaware Valley Primary Care.



“The most important information that we’re sharing with parents is how to know when they should seek advice from a primary care physician or urgent care, and when they need to visit the emergency room,” Landmeier explained, noting the intent behind the video.

As seen from Miller’s dance moves, parents can keep their kids at home if they’re experiencing mild symptoms, but when things escalate into a high fever, for example, it’s good to get them to the urgent care or the primary care office. If a child is having trouble breathing, are very drowsy, or have a blue tinge to their lips or fingernails, it might be time to visit the emergency department (ED).

For a children’s hospital that’s well-versed in treating pediatric respiratory illness, understanding the science behind those guidelines isn’t the hard part. According to Landmeier, it’s essential to deliver these messages to patients and their caregivers in a way that’s engaging, digestible, and actionable.

Miller’s Instagram Reel is visual and poised to reach a large audience, even one that lives beyond the service area for Nemours.

“Nemours Children’s has been especially successful on social media with its use of trendy reels and stories on Instagram,” Landmeier said. “Nemours Children’s deployed a series of interactive Instagram stories like quizzes, which have engaged followers in a new way while teaching them RSV facts. These posts have reached more than 45,000 Instagram accounts.”

Nemours Children’s is leveraging other technology to spread its patient education message, too. The organization’s blog, Nemours, has up-to-date information about RSV best practices. Text message, patient portal message, and email also let the organization connect personally with families.

Notably, the organization is leveraging telehealth technology to support families with questions while keeping them out of physical spaces where germs can spread. Landmeier said there’s been a 22.5 percent increase in urgent care telehealth at Nemours Children’s, which has let providers keep themselves and patients safe while still messaging out good patient education.

“Additionally, we’ve been using telehealth to text our primary care patients directly, based on the average age of patients who are being seen in our emergency department,” Landmeier explained. “Through this method, we’re able to directly reach families with young children who may be at the highest risk of serious illness and provide them with strategies to keep their kids healthy or take care of them if they do get sick.”

Patient education messaging isn’t just the how, but also the what. Patient health literacy is always a factor when designing any patient outreach campaign, with Landmeier emphasizing the importance that messages are accessible to everyone.

“Making information accessible is a very important aspect of communications at all times,” he stated. “Written information is clear, concise and in plain language so both kids and parents understand. In addition, written information is also translated into Spanish.”

Patient outreach messages are carefully tailored to specific patient populations, Landmeier added. For example, messaging might discuss RSV risk for kids with cancer who might get sicker from the virus. This gives parents and caregivers the tools they need to specifically care for their child with unique medical challenges.

On the flip side, Nemours Children’s is able to cast a wide net by utilizing mass media opportunities, too, letting the organization touch base with people who might not normally interact with them.

And as part of the organization’s work to promote health equity, Landmeier explained it has been taking key steps toward connecting with traditionally underserved groups via community health partnerships with the YMCA, Latin American Community Center, and local Boys and Girls clubs.

“Reaching traditionally underserved populations and getting families to trust us is another key component of this outreach,” he wrote. “We’re building on outreach that we’ve done with these communities in the past and are also working with current partners to amplify this information.”

Importantly, Nemours Children’s is working to arm parents and kids with the knowledge they need to prevent RSV. Messaging about frequent handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and keeping sick kids away from healthy ones are critical to stemming the spread of RSV (or even other illnesses, like COVID).

“Our goal with these efforts is to provide easily digestible and accessible information to help families make informed decisions about their children’s health, but not so much that parents become overwhelmed,” Landmeier concluded. “We also want to avoid spurring panic in families by sharing the facts in a calm and clear manner and giving parents options of what actions they can take based on their children’s symptoms.”

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