Schoolboy with sore throat

Telemedicine in Schools Makes It Harder to Play Hooky

With the rapid growth of telemedicine, missing school to see the doctor may soon be unheard of.

Thanks to a grant, Burke County Public Schools will implement Health-e-Schools program this fall. This initiative, offered by North Carolina’s Center for Rural Health Innovation, is being funded by a $701,207 grant from the Duke Endowment Grant Project.

The grant was earmarked for rural areas with less access to healthcare than urban regions. By introducing telemedicine in schools, the program will make it easier and faster for students to receive care. The goal of the initiative is to extend the reach of primary care physicians, rather than replace them.

Based on size, distance from a doctor’s office, and level of need, five elementary schools and one middle school were chosen to participate in this project. Students who become sick at these facilities will use a video conferencing system to consult a medical professional. By remaining on-site, students can receive a diagnosis with a minimum of missed classes. A school nurse will help the children navigate the telemedicine system.

Similar programs in other school systems have demonstrated several key benefits including increased attendance, quicker diagnoses, and grateful parents who are unable to miss work in order to pick up sick students. Teachers have been excited about getting more classroom time, and local businesses have appreciated the reduced need for employees to take time off to ferry a child to a doctor’s office. The students themselves are intrigued by the sounds and images relayed by the digital stethoscope and otoscope.

Nearby McDowell County Public Schools has already tested the Health-e-Schools initiative. According to their program director, Christy Lewis, 160 students utilized the new system last year with an average visit lasting less than 15 minutes. Of those, only 11 children were sent home. The other 149 remained in school; without the program, those students would have missed school for an office visit.

At the designated schools, all students will be eligible for the telemedicine consult. After each visit, a copy of the notes will be sent to the child’s regular physician for follow-up.

The only downside? Students may no longer miss school for being sick. Sorry, kids!

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