This year, children in local schools will have access to a new kind of school health care.
When a child gets sick and needs to see a doctor, children at some local schools can see a doctor or nurse practitioner from their school nurse’s office.
The equipment allows a medical professional to evaluate a student’s condition remotely through equipment that allows a school nurse to give information like vital signs to them.
Karen Saffles-Slater, who runs Coordinated School Health for Bradley County Schools, compared it to a specialized version of a video chatting computer program like Skype.
“It’s like medical Skyping,” Saffles-Slater said.
When nurses at certain schools believe a student may be ill, they can call a medical professional if they have parental permission to do so. Using instruments connected to the computer, the doctor or nurse practitioner on the other end can see what the school nurse can see.
A child’s heartbeat and other vital signs can be measured with a nurse using equipment like a stethoscope connected to the computer. A nurse using different instruments to look into a child’s ears or throat results in large images of the ears or throat being able to be shown to the person on the receiving end.
This service is being made available in addition to access to the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, a traveling RV outfitted like a doctor’s office that is made available through a partnership that includes the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger and SkyRidge Medical Center.
The Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation purchased the telemedicine equipment to be used at local schools with funds from a $50,000 United Way Healthy Initiatives grant.
The grant also paid for local school nurses to receive training over the summer on how to use the equipment.
Lynn Voelz, executive director of the foundation, said her organization liked the idea of the telemedicine equipment because it could help students from both local school systems have access to health care they might not otherwise.
“We are all about collaboration between the two school systems,” Voelz said.
Reyne Pohl, mobile care supervisor for the Care Mobile, explained that the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile and telemedicine are free to any student under 18 who is uninsured or has TennCare.
Those staffing the mobile health clinic can also see children who have health insurance, and the charge is whatever the insurance company requires for a regular doctor’s visit.
With stops at both Bradley County and Cleveland schools, the Care Mobile is open to all students in both school systems.
While it does not currently have Polk County schools on its route, Pohl said it is also available to any Polk County students who can be driven to one of the existing sites.
The clinic follows a set schedule each week.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Care Mobile is at Waterville Community Elementary School all day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On Tuesday, it is at Stuart Elementary from 8 a.m. to noon, and at Arnold Memorial Elementary from 12:30 to 4 p.m.
On Thursday, it is at Blythe-Bower Elementary School from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The schools that currently have telemedicine access are Black Fox Elementary, Mayfield Elementary, Taylor Elementary and Waterville Community Elementary.
“This is a great service,” Pohl said. “It’s very convenient for students at those schools.”
Students of all grade levels from all three area school systems can access the Care Mobile and telemedicine. If a student is not at a school that is not on the Care Mobile’s route or does not have telemedicine equipment, a parent has the option to drive his or her child to a school that does.
The county and city school systems’ health supervisors expressed optimism for what telemedicine could mean for local students and their families.
Saffles-Slater said it is a service that can allow children without insurance to receive the care they need, and it is also convenient for parents, since some students may be able to receive that care without leaving school.
“It’s also going to help children whose parents can’t get off work,” Saffles-Slater said.
Dee Dee Finison, director of Coordinated School Health for Cleveland City Schools, agreed that it could “expand the opportunities for their health care.”
She added that she also sees the possibility of students missing less school in the future because they are able to receive health care at school.
“I think that will really help a lot,” Finison said.
For more information about the mobile health clinic and telemedicine, call 423-298-4469.