Each of the 21 school sites in Newton County, Mo., will receive a mobile telemedicine cart that will allow a patient to be seen in real time by a medical provider, all without having to leave the school nurse’s office.
(TNS) — Traditional in-person doctor visits will soon be a thing of the past for students, teachers and staff in Newton County, Mo., school districts via a partnership with Freeman Neosho Hospital in a new telemedicine system.
Each of the 21 school sites in Newton County will receive a mobile telemedicine cart that will allow a patient to be seen in real time by a medical provider, all without having to leave the school nurse’s office. This includes East Newton, Seneca, Neosho, Diamond and Westview schools.
The telemedicine system allows a Freeman provider to access the patient from a distance using technology to deliver care. It will support, not replace, the school nurse. The machine is outfitted with medical equipment attachments, a viewing screen and a camera that can be moved by the off-site provider.
“Anything that I’m seeing, the physician can see through this camera,” said Rachel Beckett, Diamond school nurse. “If I look in her ear, they’re able to look and see what I’m seeing. Just like if they were here. I think it will help a lot because we have several kiddos where their parents work, and they can’t necessarily take time off work to take them. With this, if they give me their permission, I’m able to do it right here and get it taken care of. And then mom and dad can still participate in the call, as well, without having to physically leave work.”
Beckett said the new equipment will give them the capability to distinguish symptoms of the flu, COVID-19 and allergies. Access to medical care can be difficult for working parents or to those who live out in rural areas. With the telemedicine system, this means no more waiting rooms or having to take off work to visit the doctor.
“I can tell you as a parent and an employer, it’s extremely stressful when you get the call that your child has a fever, but the thought process is: Where do we go from here?” said Twyla Housh, a mother of a fifth grade student, who tested out the program on Wednesday. “Do we need to go to urgent care? Sometimes, it can take a while to go to a pediatrician. This gives me peace of mind. It was pretty easy and self-explanatory. We could see what the nurse was doing, what she was testing, we could see the inside of the (patient's) ear and see the doctor at the same time.”
The county received more than $6.8 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act approved in March by Congress for local distribution. The grant will cover eligible expenses through Dec. 30.
Newton County commissioners recently allocated $384,601 of CARES Act funds to support the project, which was used to purchase telemedicine equipment for each school building in the county. Grants of more than $1.4 million have been awarded so far by the Newton County Commission for COVID-19 expenses incurred by local governments and organizations.
Bill Reiboldt, Newton County presiding commissioner, at an announcement session Wednesday at Diamond Elementary said that they’re looking forward to launching the program.
“I had the opportunity to use telemedicine, and it’s great,” he said. “You can call a doctor almost immediately. He can prescribe medications and get it started. It takes a lot to get in to see a doctor, and you don’t want to overload the emergency rooms. What will really make this program work is parent involvement. I think it’s the future.”
Reiboldt said the county has made schools a priority during the pandemic and wanted to use the money in a way that can still be used in the future, even after COVID-19.
“We feel like going into the future, not just the COVID but through the flu seasons and whatever pandemic might come our way,” he said, “this is huge for school nurses, for the children involved and early detection and prevention of possibly a flu epidemic or a COVID epidemic within the schools.”
The new system will affect approximately 8,200 students enrolled in the school districts, as well as teachers and staff. The parent or guardian can attend the virtual doctor visit using a smart device. The medical grade attachments on the machines enables the medical provider to examine the patient’s eye, ears, nose and throat, as well as listen to the patient’s heart tones, breath and lung sounds and abdomen. The dermascope allows the provider to visualize any conditions of the skin, minor injuries and more.
Renee Denton, Freeman Neosho chief operating officer, said they’re thankful for the Newton County commissioners and their willingness to share a common vision by taking action to assist with the health care needs of children. Freeman Neosho Hospital has set up an initial two-year agreement with each participating school district.
“We recognize the relationship between successful learning and remaining healthy,” said Denton. “We also recognize the tremendous responsibility placed on the shoulders of the school districts and on the school nurses. During this COVID pandemic, their job is much more difficult. We want to support our schools.”
School nurses typically have to send a child home if they do not have the medical resources available on-hand for treatment. With this program, the nurse will be able to offer a convenient alternative to the parent with their consent, said Denton.
“At the conclusion of the telemedicine visit, the child will have received medical clearance to be able to return to the classroom or they may have needed to have medications called in, which would be done to the pharmacy of choice or there may be further diagnostic testing,” she said. “All of those decisions can be made from the school nurse’s office.”
Denton said Freeman had been working on a modified version of the program with priority access scheduling for Neosho and Seneca school districts. Then, they began testing telehealth in McDonald County. In conversations with the commissioners, Freeman shared the programs that were already in place, and this led to the discussion of implementing telemedicine in all county schools.
The CARES Act money will fund the telemedicine kiosks while Freeman Hospital is covering the remaining associated costs. Denton said each patient who uses the telemedicine program will only have to pay an affordable flat fee, similar to a co-pay.
“Freeman is supporting the program at our expense to provide the providers and to perform the telemedicine,” she said. “This is telemedicine, and it involves having the medical grade attachments for a more thorough evaluation. Telehealth is a broader term used to describe the technological equipment that’s used to provide telemedicine.”
Keith White, Diamond school superintendent, said it will keep healthy children in school and fulfills the basic needs of access to health care. The program can help fill the gap for parents who may have lost their jobs or health care coverage because of COVID-19. It can also open doors for students who want to pursue the medical field.
“We’re working with Crowder College and their nursing program to build a partnership with them for some of their nursing students who need hours or opportunities to work with our nurse,” said White. “Then, they get to be a part of this process, which is honestly great for them for the future too.”
White said he hopes to launch the telemedicine system at Diamond schools before the end of the year.
“We’re looking at the first week in November to be up and going,” he said. “In each of the buildings, we’re going to let the kids pick a name for the machine.”
©2020 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.