When Independence public school students returned to the classroom last week, Mercy Clinic’s medical team came along, too...in a virtual, high-tech sort of way, that is.
With the start of the school year, Mercy and the Independence School District launched a partnership to provide telehealth services in each of the community’s four public schools. Telehealth, or telemedicine, involves the use of advanced medical technology with a secure Internet connection to link the school clinics with Mercy Clinic, allowing medical professionals to conduct an “office visit” from several blocks away.
“Imagine not having to leave work to pick up a sick child at school and take him to the doctor,” said Rita Taylor, Mercy Clinic director. “Telehealth allows us to take care of school kids right on site while they are still in the school clinic and, in many cases, they can return to class.”
A high-resolution camera, video monitor and microphone allow the Mercy Clinic provider to interact “face to face” with the student in real-time. Specially designed attachments, such as a high-tech stethoscope and otoscope (an instrument for looking inside the ear) are maneuvered by the school nurse and send information immediately to the Mercy provider via the secure Internet connection.
Telehealth becomes an option once the school clinic aide has exhausted the usual course of action in caring for a sick child and if the child’s parents have signed pre-registration forms authorizing the services. Common ailments for school kids that could be handled via telemedicine include earaches, headaches, sore throats, rashes or bug bites, dizziness or management of chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.
For Independence High School freshman Kason Carroll, it was a red and painful eye that sent him to the clinic on the second day of school and won him the honor of being the first telehealth patient. After following routine protocol to determine what help Kason needed, the school nurse aide decided to call Mercy Clinic.
An appointment was scheduled that day and once connected, Kason met Mercy’s Carlos Venegas, nurse practitioner, “face-to-screen.” With the nurse aide’s help maneuvering the exam camera, Venegas examined Kason and asked him a series of questions about his recent activity, medical history and medications. While Venegas concluded that an in-person examination was necessary for more complete diagnosis and encouraged Kason to visit Mercy Convenient Care later that day, he was able to determine Kason’s condition was not contagious, and he could return to class to finish the day.
“There will, of course, be instances when a telemedicine visit will not be sufficient to make a diagnosis, and the child will need to come into the clinic for an in-person exam,” Taylor said. “But even in those cases, the telemedicine visit will give the patient a jump-start and alert the provider how to prepare.”
Taylor noted that telehealth visits are billed just like a routine office visit, and in the case of an initial virtual visit that must be continued at the physician office, patients will not be charged double for co-pays or appointment fees.
Kason’s parents both happen to be employees of the school system – his father the principal of an elementary school and his mother a middle school teacher. For them, the convenience of the telemedicine service was much appreciated and a no-brainer decision when they got the call from the school saying Kason needed medical attention.
“We both have responsibilities at our jobs and can’t always leave at the drop of a hat,” said Brad Carroll, Kason’s father. “As a principal, I was both excited and curious to see how telemedicine would work in our schools this year. As a parent, I was relieved it was available for my kid when I needed it.”