School districts are taking a shine to telehealth, as evidenced by new projects in Texas and Georgia.
In north Texas, the Children's Health System of Dallas is expanding a pilot project launched two years ago in two pre-schools with the rollout of a telehealth platform in 57 schools across four counties. Funded by a Medicaid waiver, the program places telemedicine carts in each school and allows for a virtual consultation between the school nurse and a doctor or nurse practitioner at Children's.
"The most important thing we're looking at for the telemedicine-based program is how can we improve the seat time – the time learning in the classrooms – and not being out for the doctor's appointments," Julie Hall-Barrow, the health system's senior director of healthcare innovation and telemedicine, told the Dallas/Fort Worth Healthcare Daily. "Mostly, we hear that the kid didn't feel well last night, but they're going to go on to school because they aren't running a temperature. What happens if they get sicker during the day?"
Children's Health officials expanded the program last year from the two pre-schools to some 27 campuses. Their goal after this year's rollout is some 80 schools in 2016, and funding is in line to keep the program going for five years.
The telemedicine carts, costing roughly $22,000 apiece, include a variety of mobile testing devices, as well as rapid testing strips for flu and strep throat. The process begins with a school nurse taking a child's vital signs, then connecting with a Children's physician for a consult of roughly 15 to 20 minutes.
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The program prompted two Texas lawmakers to sponsor legislation that allows physicians throughout the state to be reimbursed for school-based video chats, as long as the student is at school and enrolled in the state's Medicaid program for the poor and disabled. House Bill 1878, sponsored by State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, and State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, becomes law on Sept. 1.
"You want to talk about access? You want to talk about affordability? This is their access," Laubenberg told The Texas Tribune. "We can treat the child, have him ready to go, and we can leave him here. … You don't have to take off work. He doesn't have to leave school. It's less disruptive."
According to the American Telemedicine Association, New Mexico and Georgia also have laws on the books enabling doctors to be reimbursed for school-based telemedicine treatments for Medicaid patients.
Georgia is looking to expand its telemedicine offerings in schools. The Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, a non-profit based just outside Atlanta, has just received a grant from the Georgia Office of Rural Health's 2015 Rural School-Based Telehealth Center Initiative to expand its three-year telemedicine program to eight schools.
This is the third year that the GPT has been awarded a grant from the program, which targets public and charter schools in counties with a population of less than 35,000, and will bring the number of schools under the GPT umbrella to 15.
Through the grant, each school gets $30,000 to purchase telehealth equipment for a school-based telemedicine center and train staff.
"For a variety of reasons, whether it be distance or financial factors, not all children have access to the medical care that they need to grow in a healthy and happy manner," Sherrie Williams, the GPT's executive director, said in a press release. "This grant program will help get more children the care that they need and ultimately helps foster better lives for students in rural Georgia communities. That is a huge victory and we are glad to be a part of it."
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