Technology efforts will help three Houston-area schools get the on-site nursing care they need but cannot afford, and schools nationwide are looking at a model that will balance necessary healthcare with tight budgets.
The solution? Telemedicine. Using a computer, students can enter a chat room and have a live conversation with a nurse practitioner. Instruments allow the nurse to listen to a heartbeat, look in the ears, as well as viewing the student, all of which create a virtual visit.
"Because they're so small, we could only visit them once or twice a week, because we couldn't justify having a nurse practitioner in every school," Popp said. "So we decided to come up with an innovative way that we could use the nurse practitioners that we had to be present at the schools more often."
If successful, CHRISTUS School-based Clinics will have the programs installed in all 14 schools that need the service, reports Bonnie Petrie for News 92 FM.
Telemedicine has been approved for schools around the US. Many states are gaining the funding required and purchasing the necessary technology.
City schools in Kingsport, Tennessee, started using the program last year. The program will allow students to receive medical treatment and prescriptions from a nurse both in person and online.
The program was first put in place for the 2012-2013 school year, and had 183 students district-wide use the service. At the time, the district's two middle schools and high school participated. Elementary schools are expected to use the service this fall.
According to officials from Sevier County, which has used the program for a few years, the service takes about 3-5 years to really see how well its running. Between those years, schools in Sevier County had about 50-60 students using the service each day, reports Rick Wagner for The Times News.
"The school nurses will continue to facilitate each one of the visits," Johnston said. She said the nurses would take basic vital signs and then determine if a student could return to class or needs to receive medical care, and if so, could the nurse practitioner provide the care at school?
While parents are welcome to come to the school for the virtual visits, most simply ask to be notified of the outcome.
The system allows students to miss less school time, as their doctor visits can take place right in the building. The service is also available for teacher and staff use.
However, new rules from the state's Board of Medical Examiners are being proposed that would require a patient to have an initial consultation with their doctor in-person before being allowed to take part in the telemedicine program, writes Katie Dvorak for Fierce Health IT.
Critics of the service are concerned with how telemedicine will affect patient relationships with their care providers.
The Board of Medical Examiners, by proposing these rules, "falsely presumes that telemedicine is not to be trusted, requiring frequent in-office visits between telemedicine consults, and face-to-face meetings between patients and physicians," Henry DePhillips, chief medical officer of Teladoc Inc., writes.
Many other states using the program are hard at work in an effort to increase use of the system. One such example is in South Dakota, where a $100,000 grant was recently put to use to allow services to reach those in rural areas who face problems with drugs and alcohol.
A similar service, Doctor On Demand, was started eight months ago by TV personality Dr. Phil and his son, Jay McGraw. Patients can access a physician within three minutes from their smartphones or computer. With more than 1,400 physicians in 47 states, they diagnose simple ailments. While insurance won't cover the cost of the online visit, patients can pay the $40 fee from health savings accounts.