College students—famous for their late-night cram sessions and 2 a.m. pizzas—have never been the model of perfect health, but with campuses starting to embrace telemedicine, this could soon change. Today’s students, Generation Z, are the least likely generation to visit a primary care doctor; only 55 percent even have a designated primary care physician, and 1.7 million college students are uninsured. To entice students to seek care more readily when it’s needed, telemedicine start-up 98point6 is partnering with Ohio Wesleyan University to offer students free campus telemedicine services.
Patients begin by opening the app and texting an AI bot, which then connects them to the appropriate 98point6 doctor. Sometimes, the entire conversation can be held via text message, or it can be transferred to a video call if necessary. The app can also direct students to in-person resources on campus, such as counseling or lab testing.
Asking health-related questions through the app comes naturally to the college kids, said Dr. Bradley Younggren, chief medical officer, because “they’re used to using text as a medium to communicate. They use it every day of their lives.” Furthermore, if faced with a $50 fee for a medical appointment, students are likely to forego the appointment and search Google instead for free. With this app, at least the students are getting qualified information and personalized advice—also for free. Dr. Younggren especially appreciates that with this telemedicine system, individuals can ask everyday health questions rather than waiting until they’re sick to seek care. He views this as a positive shift towards taking care of patients in wellness, not just sickness.
Interestingly, 98point6 is finding that students are increasingly looking for behavioral health services through the app, likely trying to avoid the stigma associated with seeking counseling at a campus health center. This is not a new phenomenon, though; others have already predicted the viability of telemental health services on college campuses. At the University of Southern California Telehealth Clinic, video counseling services are available for both patients and their partners; community colleges typically have large mental health needs but lack the resources to address those needs adequately, said Sarah Caliboso-Soto, interim director.
Many proponents of telemedicine on college campuses acknowledge the concern that telemedicine isn’t for everyone and may not adequately convey subtle clues to the provider, such as mannerisms or body language, but they posit that despite its limitations, the system increases accessibility and availability for students. With these initial successes on record, more universities and colleges are likely to consider supplementing their health clinics with similar campus telemedicine programs.
To read more about campus telemedicine, visit Diverse: Issues in Higher Education here.