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Pearl Public School District participating in UMMC school-based telehealth program

Oct. 12, 2022

Source: By Tom Hill, Rankin County News

PEARL – The Pearl Public School District is one of four districts that were selected to participate in phase one of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School Based Telehealth Program. The program makes it possible for nurses in the schools, with parental permission, to contact and consult with doctors or nurse practitioners at UMMC’s Telehealth Center about a student’s medical or mental health needs. There is no charge to parents for the video consultations.

PPSD Head Nurse Julie Thornton said the program is being funded by a grant from the MS Dept. of Education in partnership with UMMC Center for Telehealth which will provided telehealth services to school districts who opted to participate.

The PPSD has nurses on each campus.

“We are blessed to have a nurse in each building,” Thornton stated. “It is great to have a school board and district administration team that is committed to not only education our students but to their health and safety as well.”

Prior to the start of this school year, Telehealth nurses came to the PPSD to bring the laptops and specialized equipment that are used to communicate between the schools and the Telehealth Center and to train the nurses on how to use it. Funds from the grant paid for the equipment.

Thornton explained that if a student is ill or injured, the nurses would treat him or her and determine if the student is able to return to class, needs to be sent home, or if further medical care is needed. Now the nurses are able to schedule a telehealth visit with parent permission when deemed necessary.

The telehealth program makes it possible for a parent, school nurse and the student to be linked with a doctor or nurse practitioner at the Center all at the same time via live video. If a school nurse sees signs of an ear infection in a student, she can contact the parent and schedule a telehealth visit if needed. During the visit, the nurse will use the digital otoscope provided by the Center which enables the healthcare provider to visualize the students ear in real time and determine further diagnosis. The Center can then send a prescription to the pharmacy the parent uses, and medicine will be ready to be picked up when the parent gets off work.

The digital otoscope also can be modified into a piece of equipment that can scan rashes or other skin conditions and those images can be visualized in real time by the Telehealth Center as well.

Should a student have a respiratory condition, the school nurse can use the digital stethoscope provided by the Center to transmit the sounds of the child’s breathing as well as his or her heartbeat.

According to Thornton, the Mental Health component of the school-based Telehealth program offers service for students who are struggling with depression, anxiety, behavioral difficulties, stress or other mental health conditions. School counselors would continue to work with students, but if the counselors feel the need for further treatment or care, the school can schedule an appointment with one of the mental Health Nurse Practitioners or a Mental Health Therapist. These services are for students who are not currently receiving care or services by another mental health provider.

“The school-based Telehealth Behavioral health component is a much needed addition with the increase in depression, anxiety and stress that many students in our district and across the state are experiencing as they transition back to school and navigate in a post-Covid world,” she added.

Thornton explained that when the Center staff complete their consultation, they send a after visit summary of their findings to the parent and the school nurse whose student was examined. If a parent requests it, the Center will also forward the summary to the student’s primary care physician or pediatrician.

“That provides continuity of care,” Thornton stated. “It also gives everyone a record in case the student has the same problem later on.”

“This program is a great benefit to our parents. The visits with telehealth staff are free. Sometimes parents can’t afford to leave work to take their child to a doctor. In some cases, parents have to choose between taking their child to a doctor or buying the medicine needed to treat the child’s condition. This will help alleviate some of the financial burden that parents often face when seeking medical care for their children.”

Thornton said the appointments at the Telehealth Center are done in 15-minute blocks during school hours. That way, a parent can ask the nurse to schedule an appointment at a time that is convenient for them to join in if they choose. If an appointment is set for later in the day, the student can continue to go to classes until the school nurse calls them down to her office.

Thornton said PPSD was included in Phase I of implementation of the School-Based Telehealth Program. She added that the program is scheduled to be expanded in early November and that the Rankin County School District will be in Phase II. At that time, there will be around 230 schools participating in the UMMC School-Based Telehealth Program.

Thornton predicted as the program continues to evolve, the scope of care that school nurses will be able to provide could possibly include point of care testing. If so, that would make it possible for school nurses to swab students’ and run tests on those swabs for strep throat or the flu. Catching those highly infectious illnesses early would limit the spread among the student populations.

Superintendent Chris Chism states, “I believe this new Telehealth program is a wonderful thing for the students and parents in our district. This technology allows students to see doctors online, while also connecting with parents during the visit. Ultimately, this program will allow our students to be seen quickly, and it will also help parents financially, because these online visits are free of charge. We are very proud to be one of the first districts to implement this program. Telehealth visits have already had positive outcomes for our students and their parents, and I believe we will see that continue as it expands moving forward.”


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