What parent among us hasn’t wrestled with the decision to keep a child home from school? One doleful eyed stare and a woeful, “I don’t feel good!” is usually enough to have us calling the pediatrician for an urgent care visit.
My children weren’t above pulling out the theatrics to avoid a test or some other ‘unsavory’ school task. It never failed that on the days I didn’t fall for ‘the ruse’ I would get a call from the school nurse. And nothing screams ‘mommy fail’ like the school nurse suggesting that you take your child to the doctor!
But the Calhoun County School Board is considering implementing a collaboration between on-site school nurses and remotely located physicians. This collaboration is called telemedicine or telehealth and it has already been launched in some South Carolina schools with Bamberg, Barnwell and Allendale counties beginning their school-based telehealth program in August.
Telemedicine is also finding favor in many private health care plans as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and other government health programs. Telemedicine offers an economical alternative to face-to-face medical provider visits.
There are many nuances to launching a program like this and much research and planning is being done. Mr. Ferlondo Tullock, Calhoun County Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Office of Exceptional Children, is optimistic about the program’s potential within the district stressing improved health care for students. Improved health means improved attendance.
The way a telehealth program would work is something like this: a student reports to the nurse’s station because he or she doesn’t feel well; the school’s nurse would use telehealth carts designed with high resolution video and high-quality audio to transmit the student’s vitals in realtime using specially designed instruments to perform physical exams remotely. For example, if a child complains of an ear ache a video otoscope can transmit video of the ear canal or the electronic stethoscope can be used to hear the heart beating, the lungs inhaling and exhaling, or even sounds from the digestive system.
A doctor, in a hospital or medical practice, will receive the transmitted vitals, speak directly to the nurse and/or student in realtime, and determine a treatment plan (i.e. go home for rest, return to the classroom, or, perhaps, seek in-person medical attention).
Where TeleHealth deals with the physical medical needs of the student TelePsych offers help for students who are struggling emotionally. Preliminary studies have shown this to be an effective tool for helping students develop positive coping mechanisms.
Dr. Steven Wilson, Calhoun County School District Superintendent, stresses the need to ensure that the program will meet students’ health care needs without putting them at risk of not getting the right medical care in a timely manner. A concern with which all parents would most probably concur.