School-based telemedicine should get a passing grade from administrators

In addition to teaching students reading, writing and the basics of arithmetic, parents expect that school faculty and staff will keep their children safe throughout the day. That’s why the staff of your child’s elementary school includes a nurse as well as educators. But while most schools have a clinic onsite, nursing staff in educational institutions tend to be restricted in the services they’re able to provide, simply due to a lack of effective clinical technology or access to specialty healthcare providers.

Telemedicine may be on board to change all that. Between providing nurses access to other healthcare professionals via remote conferencing and letting school healthcare staff monitor students remotely when necessary, school administrators are ready to give telemedicine an A.

Additional support for staff

The image of the school nurse laboring away on his or her own trying to take care of fevers and nasty scrapes is a common one. We’ve been conditioned to view school nurses not necessarily as medical staff, but more as sources of first aid for children in minor schoolyard emergencies. For anything major, however, schools typically have to arrange for transportation to the nearest hospital emergency department – a task that can involve significant cost for the school or the family of the child. Thanks to telemedicine, those days are over. Emerging technologies such as video conferencing, remote diagnostic tools and electronic health record integration brings a new robust suite of options to school healthcare.

With telemedicine, nurses have the opportunity to consult with healthcare providers and emergency medical staff to determine if the time and money involved in moving a student to a hospital is even necessary in the first place. What’s more, these doctors, nurses and clinicians can offer diagnostic input and treatment recommendations that can help school healthcare professionals treat students more effectively right there in the nurse's office – it’s like having an additional team of doctor’s right there in the school.

People performing telemedicine with ear scope

Healthcare access for more children

The sad truth is many kids in the U.S. still lack health insurance or access to basic medical services. According to the Children's Partnership, there are 2.4 million children who live in areas where accessible healthcare is recognized as a significant problem – and that’s just in the state of California alone. One indirect but greatly appreciated benefit of integrating telemedicine into schools is that these students now have a healthcare option available in their school nurse's office, even if they don’t have those same options available at home.

It’s true that school-based medical care isn't intended to be a substitute for regular care at the hands of a physician. However, in some cases where students have no other access to such services, telemedicine can provide an invaluable benefit to children and their parents, especially in instances where health insurance may not be available.

People engaged in telemedicine

How does school-based telemedicine work?

That’s not to say that school nurses need a degree in technology to operate telemedicine, in fact it is just the opposite. A properly designed school-based telemedicine system is developed with the school nurse (and their clinical practices) in mind – not an IT professional.  The beauty of school-based telemedicine is its simplicity: Telemedicine in schools is simple and is designed to fit within the normal workflow and mimic a regular check-up or appointment that a child may have with a primary care physician.

Another bonus that telemedicine brings to schools is the wide range of applications the technology can facilitate. One common application of clinical telemedicine technology is video conferencing technology that would allow school nurses to communicate with doctors in real time. However, the true power of leveraging telemedicine in school-based applications is to be able to clinically treat a patient from afar. School nurses can easily make use of a telemedicine cart for a "patient check-up" from the doctor conducted via video conference, with help from the nurse who is there with the student. In this way, clinical telemedicine can offer the best of both worlds – the hands-on interaction required for a full clinical examination thanks to the nurse’s presence, and the benefit of specialty medical care from a doctor, even if he or she isn’t in the same room as the patient.

With a webcam, reliable and secure Internet connection, encounter management software and a few other pieces of equipment such as remote stethoscopes, school nurses can be equipped with the tools to help students with diagnostic concerns, symptom management and more. Schools have successfully implemented telemedicine to help students manage such conditions as asthma, acute chronic illnesses, childhood obesity, oral health concerns and even mental health issues.

Telemedicine does not have to be expensive, extensive or exhaustive

Another appealing aspect of clinical telemedicine in school settings is its affordability. You may think adopting a clinical telemedicine program for your school is prohibitively expensive, but you’d likely be surprised to learn that doesn’t have to be the case. A local community health center, hospital or physician's practice may even take on this ownership of setting up a telemedicine health center inside the school system. This allows schools and clinics to partner up and offer additional healthcare services to patients they might not be able to reach otherwise, and helps decrease hospital re-admission for issues that could have been easily managed through the health center at school.

The advent of software-based video conferencing platforms in lieu of costly codec equipment further reduces adoption costs. Administrators don’t need to invest in expensive hardware for video conferencing over and above their Internet connection and a high-resolution camera, as many clinical telemedicine systems now operate through Web-based software for the patient encounter. Familiar medical devices such as stethoscopes and otoscopes are also easily integrated with these systems to facilitate clinical patient exams.

There are many school-based health centers that have already taken advantage of telemedicine technologies that come equipped with everything a school nurse needs to do a clinical examination.  The solution for schools has to be simple to get everyone on board with using it. Luckily, when it comes to clinical telemedicine, simplicity is the name of the game.

About the Author

Steve Normandin is President of AMD Global Telemedicine, and is well known for his involvement in telemedicine since its infancy stages. As was one of the founders of AMD (American Medical Development) in 1991, Steve saw the enormous benefits telemedicine served to the healthcare industry. Focusing on the use of telemedicine in clinical applications, Mr. Normandin has since led the company to design innovative uses of technology and medical devices for telemedicine applications.