New telemedicine program coming to area schools

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Nurse practitioner Sally Schaefer spoke over the laptop video link, with pictures projected onto the screen at right, about what she could see and diagnose in a telemedicine exam. Also pictured, from left, are: CoxHealth staffer Justin Bess, Monett lead school nurse Kristen Earnest, project coordinator Tabitha Ferwalt holding the exam equipment, and Michelle Bekemeier, standing, with CoxHealth. Murray Bishoff/Cassville Democrat

Effort to reduce absenteeism through early diagnosis

Area schools will again offer an innovative pilot program targeting healthcare and preventative medicine made available by a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Michelle Bekemeier, corporate account executive of business development for CoxHealth Systems, led a public presentation on the program Tuesday in the library at Monett Intermediate School. She explained that the CoxHealth has partnered with the foundation to bring mobile telehealth carts to six school districts — Cassville, Monett, Ozark, Forsyth, Reeds Spring and Mountain Home. Three of the districts will also receive a Cox staffer who will serve onsite.

Under the program, the school district will have access to special equipment, including a stethoscope and an audioscope, hooked into a direct link to a nurse practitioner in Springfield. The equipment will provide a magnified view of a child's condition, including throat and ears, as well as any skin conditions. The nurse practitioner will assess the condition, targeting acute care illnesses such as lice and strep throat.

Bekemeier demonstrated by establishing a video link with nurse practitioner Sally Schaefer in Springfield. The audioscope was used to view the ears of CoxHealth staff representative Justin Bess. Schaefer reported over the video link that she could see the subject quite well and could, in many cases, identify conditions such as strep throat. She could then call a prescription into a pharmacy for treatment.

"The school nurse often knows what needs to be done, but can't write a script," Bekemeier said. "We can."

The grant will provide funding for three years. Families must sign up, at no cost, giving authorization for the treatment.

Bekemeier explained that because children often become ill overnight, the service will be available as early as 7:30 a.m. for parents to access an exam before school begins. Otherwise, a teacher can refer a child to the school nursing staff to determine if the subject qualifies as a telemedicine candidate.

The process will enable parents to receive prompt assistance without having to schedule time away from work to go to a doctor's appointment, Bekemeier said. In addition, the school district has protocols for sending a child home that require specific thresholds. Earnest noted that the district's criteria for strep throat must include a fever. A telemedicine diagnosis could identify a child prior to a fever and help take the child out of spreading an infection earlier.

"This will be great for kiddos who are uninsured or who would not have access to healthcare otherwise," Earnest said. "We hope to reduce absenteeism for parents, who can come to school over their lunch break."

Parents may also be able to participate in the visit with the nurse practitioner by phone or video using a smartphone without having to leave work or home.

CoxHealth has plans to partner with other agencies to provide financial support for medications for those in need.

"Telemedicine is a growing trend, one that we've experienced great, positive growth with at CoxHealth,” says Bridget Ohara, manager of DirectConnect, CoxHealth’s telemedicine program. “We're excited that we can help bring this technology to local schools to help students."

The telemedicine service offered through CoxHealth presently receives 700 calls a month. The service will also be available to a number of Monett industries, including Architectural Systems, Monett Metals, Roderick Arms and Tool, WinTech and the Clark Community Mental Health Center.

"We're not directly offering the service to other campuses," Earnest said. "Monett Intermediate will be the pilot school. If the nurse on another campus discovers a problem, that nurse can call me. There is a possibility we will be able to see kids from other campuses."

Tabitha Ferwalt, the project coordinator with Access Children's Healthcare Through Telemedicine Now, will travel to all the participating schools to explain the program. In addition to training staff in how to use the $11,000 in telemedicine equipment, groundwork for the program will involve gathering signed authorizations from parents to participate in the program.

Earnest said Monett Superintendent Brad Hanson alerted her last spring that the telemedicine program could become available, and to begin gathering data on the mechanics for making the service work in Monett. Word that the program would include Monett came through last fall.

"We're excited to get the word out," Earnest said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: