Virtual care is an umbrella term that encompasses how healthcare providers can remotely interact with their patients. Telemedicine, a specific method of virtual care that is becoming increasingly popular in schools across the US, refers specifically to the treatment of medical conditions without seeing a patient in person. A health professional utilizing this method can take advantage of live video and audio conferences, or even instant messaging to diagnose and address their patient’s condition.
Why Is Telemedicine On the Rise?
In the past, most schools had a full-time school nurse to take care of their student population. However, today’s school districts don’t have the necessary funding to put a nurse in every school, and those school health professionals who do exist, wear more than one hat. Gone are the days of applying a bandage here and distributing a Tylenol tab there. Now, so many nurses are expected to juggle caring for a variety of issues, from complex emotional and behavioral health cases to students with one or more chronic conditions. That’s a lot of responsibility! However, with telemedicine, some of that burden can be minimized. According to the American Telemedicine Association, “School-based telehealth is a delivery method that can provide access to a wide spectrum of care including chronic disease management, behavioral and mental health, speech therapy, dental screenings, nutritional counseling, and prevention and health education.”
What benefits do schools see from implementing telehealthcare options?
- Schools that do not have a full-time nurse or doctor on staff can utilize this form of health care to provide regular medical care for students when they need it.
- Students attending schools with limited or no health department staff, receive more consistent health care.
- Schools will see a decrease in the number of early school dismissals due to illness.
- Visits to the emergency room for non-emergent issues will decrease.
- Parents can join the conversation remotely if their child needs medical attention.
- Students who lack traditional access to a general health care provider will now have an opportunity to be seen by a health professional.
It’s Not Just Schools, Parents Like Telemedicine Too!
One of the more challenging things that a working parent is faced with, is what to do when the school calls because their child doesn’t feel well. It can be tough because some companies may not be very accepting of their employees leaving during the middle of the day. This becomes especially frustrating if the sick child ends up feeling fine when they get home. Or, let’s say none of that matters, and the parent simply wants to hear what the health staff have to say before coming to get their student. Telehealth platforms allow parents to conference in and participate in the medical discussion as if they were in the room with their child. This is particularly beneficial for the doctor when determining more of the child’s health history. Upon completion, the diagnosis and treatment are discussed with the parent and a prescription, if required, is electronically forwarded to the preferred pharmacy.
What Are the Downsides of Telemedicine?
While Telemedicine at schools may sound great, there are some obvious potential drawbacks. Some conditions can not be easily diagnosed remotely and may require further testing at a medical facility. Telemedicine is often used to treat more common illnesses or to manage chronic illnesses. For situations where emergency services are needed, the remote provider will advise as such. Additionally, funding for telemedicine programs can cause some initial concerns among schools with smaller budgets.
However, there are opportunities for insurance companies to step in and commit funding in support of telemedicine. For instance, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has committed $750,000 over three years to expand Atrium Health Levine Children’s school-based virtual clinic to additional schools within the state. With this extra funding, the virtual clinic is projected to increase the number of telehealth visits by 100/year per school, and will continue to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits.
So, what do you think? Would virtual health clinics and telemedicine benefit your school?