| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
The Manatee County School Board will consider a proposal on Tuesday that would lead to MCR Health launching telehealth services at local schools.
The memorandum of understanding, if approved, would pave the way for the district to begin working on a plan to put the program in place.
According to the memorandum, the agreement would be in place for five years and have “no financial impact” on the district.
School district spokesman Michael Barber said on Friday the program is expected to begin in early October with a small number of schools. But, he said, it was too soon to confirm which schools.
“A lot of the details regarding this telehealth program are still being worked on,” he said. “So, at this point, we’re not able to get into specifics.”
The ultimate goal of the program is to make health care more accessible to students and their families. This, the district said, will help its effort to address wellness and chronic absenteeism.
If the program gets the green light, school nurses will see clinics outfitted with cameras, examination scopes, telephonic stethoscopes and the equipment necessary for testing for strep throat and the flu.
Nurses, using the equipment provided to them, would then be able to test students’ eyes, ears, noses and throats as well as listening to their lungs and examining their skin.
The tests would be done under the supervision of MCR doctors or nurse practitioners who will be able to prescribe medications and summarize the visit to a student’s parent or guardian. MCR will also schedule followup appointments if needed.
Nurses will also be able to give vaccinations and flu shots with a parent’s or guardian’s permission.
To make all this work, MCR “will purchase and set up two-way audio/video telehealth carts for each and every school containing diagnostic tools that are required for student evaluations at the nurse’s office,” according to the memorandum.
As for payment, MCR will bill Medicaid or insurers for services and bill the parents or guardians of uninsured students.
Offering telehealth services in schools, especially schools with large pockets of low-income students, is seen as a way to keep students healthier and more engaged in school while helping parents who may otherwise not be able to get their children the health care they need.
Children’s Health in Dallas launched a telehealth program at more than 100 schools in 2013.
In a case study, Children’s Health officials said the program was launched, in part, because of what doctors, nurses and administrators were seeing every day.
The hospital said about half of the patients coming to the pediatric emergency room came during daytime hours. And hospital officials were hearing from parents who said it was tough to take time off to get their kids to the doctor. Time off meant lost pay or even a lost job.
In the first five year the program was in place, Children’s Health provided 10,000 virtual consultations at the more than 100 schools.
“Parents report that the visits save them time and money,” according to the case study. “Educators report that students return to class in minutes instead of hours or days, contributing to more continuity in learning.”
If Manatee’s telehealth program gets the go ahead, it won’t be the first time the school district and the MCR have partnered.
The health care system already has school-based health centers at Southeast High School and Manatee Elementary in Bradenton.
The school board will take up the memorandum of understanding at its meeting on Tuesday. Cynthia Saunders, the district’s superintendent, recommends the board approve the program.