Cassville, Monett schools to receive telemedicine technology
Successful medical model provides immediate care
What if there were a way to cut down on childhood illnesses in school such as strep throat, pink eye and ear infections, and how would that affect a student's performance and keep parents from missing work?
Now, there is a way — ACT Now (Accessing Children's Health Care through Telemedicine), a three-year grant from the Missouri Foundation of Health, which is making telemedicine available to students at no cost.
Elementary schools in Cassville, Monett, Forsyth, Ozark, Mountain Grove and Reeds Spring are the latest recipients of the grant through DirectConnect, a branch of CoxHealth.
According to Bridget O'Hara, DirectConnect product manager, telemedicine, which allows a doctor in another location to see patients remotely via live video consult, offers many benefits.
"Telemedicine is a growing trend, one that we've experienced great, positive growth with at CoxHealth,” O'Hara said. "We're excited that we can help bring this technology to local schools to help students. It's for acute illnesses. Think of it like an internet-based urgent care on a walk-in basis."
Telemedicine offers on-the-spot care, and in many cases, may allow students to return to class the same day, versus the current protocol of a student being sent home, parents scrambling to obtain a doctor's appointment on short notice and taking time off work, the student missing school and the cost and inconvenience that goes along with that scenario.
Since nurses cannot diagnose, students with acute, contagious illness must be sent home. But, it might take awhile to get a doctor's appointment, or be difficult for the parent to get off work.
"The nurse can say, 'It sounds like Johnny might have an ear infection,' but you still have to take him to the doctor to be diagnosed," O'Hara said. "But, what happens is they are sent back to the parent to get care, and they often don't."
Telemedicine has a way to solve those dilemmas. When a child goes to the nurse's office with a sore throat or says their ear hurts, the nurse would say, 'Let's call your parents, let's get you on the screen.
"The schools are equipped with telecarts to help us diagnose accurately," O'Hara said. "We have an otoscope and stethoscopes so our providers can actually listen to a child's heart, see in their ears and down their throats — and that really expands our scope of care and helps us to treat children. It's so simple and it allows children to get care right then and there."
Parents must be present, but do not have to leave work or home. The school will also be set up for strep throat testing.
"They can participate in person or connect in a three-way video," O'Hara said. "So if they can't leave work, they can connect from their smart phone with a camera and internet connection. People are in tough positions, so if we can bring that care to them, that can make all the difference. It benefits everyone."
Cassville Primary School Principal Catherine Weaver said more than 100 parents have returned paperwork so far giving permission for their child to be treated with telemedicine. The equipment has been delivered and the program will be implemented soon.
"The equipment is really fascinating when they can look in your nose and throat and those pictures translate back to Cox doctors," Weaver said. "We are very excited about the prospect of saving our families and parents time out of school to address some of those illnesses. It helps with illnesses like pink eye, allergies, stomach flu and those general things we pass around. It will be great to have access to take care of those things without kids and parents having to take time off or make it up. The parents are very excited about being able to do that. The less absenteeism, the greater the opportunity to keep kids healthier."
LaDon Vanzandt, Cassville Primary School nurse, said the main focus of telemedicine is to increase school attendance.
"It's hard with little kids and getting them here every day," she said. "We do not have enough practitioners in Barry County to see everybody."
Take pink eye, a contagious illness which requires a child to go home until he or she has received antibiotic eye drops. With telemedicine, the child can be examined and a prescription called in. The parent can then pick up the drops, bring them to school, and, pending a doctor's approval, the student may be able to return to class the same day.
The telemedicine grant also bypasses the challenges of lack of health insurance or out-of-network insurance.
"It helps if a child doesn't have insurance, if parents are just starting a job, or they just moved here and don't have insurance," Vanzandt said.
"Not only is it free to students K-5, once a child has been seen and enrolled, their parents and other family members can make a DirectConnect phone call and be seen for $49, regardless of insurance," O'Hara said.
More than 100 schools utilize the CoxHealth telemedicine program for faculty and staff.
"If a teacher has to take off work, the school has to pay a substitute and it costs the system money," O'Hara said. "So we see a lot of teachers do this on their lunch break. We just want to help take care of people when they need it. It's a win-win for everyone."
"I am very happy about being one of just a few schools selected in this grant opportunity," said Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent. "Our school strives to offer a variety of services and programs to our students and parents and this is just one more option for our school to help students be successful. When our students are successful, so are the parents and the school. It's a great partnership for serving our communities.
"Any time the school can assist our parents in access to medical care that may increase or prevent children from attending school we benefit. When our children benefit, we benefit."