Photo: Blessing Health System
As rural communities strive to maintain access to quality healthcare, providers increasingly are forced to think outside the box to make sure patients receive the care they need and deserve.
The Bureau of Health Workforce Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) found that 62.93% of primary care health professional shortage areas were located in rural areas, leaving patients and local healthcare providers searching for new solutions to fill the gaps.
Telemedicine in the school
To fight these challenges in its rural Illinois and Missouri community, Blessing Health System initiated the region's first-ever school-based telehealth program.
"School-based telehealth is not only good for the students but also for educators and parents and guardians," said Rose A. Ghattas, RN, virtual health coordinator at Blessing Health System, based in Quincy, Illinois. "Students can be seen by a practitioner for non-emergent needs that would normally send a student home during the day, forcing them to miss valuable hands-on learning.
"Parents and guardians appreciate the thorough care being provided via the technology and providers already familiar with their children while not leaving work or packing up younger siblings during the day," she continued. "Educators also want the children to stay in school. This allows that."
In the event a student is receiving behavioral health services in this program, they can rotate their appointment times to not affect the same class each instance while maintaining privacy. Prescriptions and follow-up are done by the practitioners' offices and communicated directly to the parent or guardian.
Common health concerns
"The most common use-cases we experience are behavioral health counseling, dermatological concerns, sore throats and earaches," Ghattas explained. "There are so many more and we encourage using the program to treat or triage for illness and/or symptoms the student has that do not automatically send them home by school policy.
"There are tools attached to our equipment allowing for a great exam," she added. "A stethoscope, USB-connected otoscope and dermatology camera help the school nurse and practitioner add to the quality of the telehealth visit."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Blessing Health System noticed that students struggle when they miss out on hands-on education. The telehealth program allows students to stay in school as much as possible.
"Educators keep their students in the classroom, uninterrupted by sending students home, catching them up the next day, or gathering assignments to be taken home," Ghattas concluded. "We give the opportunity to the students to get the most out of their day."
Ghattas will offer more detail during her HIMSS21 session, "Piloting a School Telehealth Program in a Rural Community." It's scheduled for August 10, from 10:00-11:00 in Venetian San Polo 3404.
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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