When Independence public school students return to the classroom in a few weeks, Mercy Clinic’s medical team will come along...in a virtual, high-tech sort of way, that is.
Again this year, Mercy will offer telehealth (telemedicine) services in the clinics of each of the four USD 446 schools – Eisenhower, Jefferson, Independence Middle School and Independence High School. Telehealth 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.
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 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,” said Rita Taylor, Mercy Clinic director.
“Last year was our pilot year for telehealth in the schools, and we spent a good deal of time working out the ‘bugs’ that accompany a new technology. We’ve had a lot of practice on both ends – among the nurse aides and our providers – and we are now even better prepared to provide quality, efficient telemedicine services when the need arises.”
Taylor said 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.
“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 ‘virtual’ 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 only be charged for the on-site clinic visit.
Representatives from Mercy will be on hand this week at central registration to answer questions, demonstrate the telemedicine equipment and help parents register their children for telehealth services. Children who were signed up last year are not required to re-register, but parents will be asked to double-check the information on file. More information is available by contacting Mercy Clinic at 620-332-3280.