First school-based telehealth clinic opens in Indiana

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ELWOOD, Ind. - Most parents have taken that call from the school nurse saying their child is sick and needs picked up and taken to the doctor. For parents in a small Madison County town, that situation is now much easier.

The Elwood Community School Corporation is the first in the state of Indiana to open a school-based telehealth clinic.

Students can be seen by a long-time, local pediatrician without ever leaving school.

"To have a chance to have something immediate like that was a real attention-getter for us," said Superintendent Chris Daughtry.

Daughtry says don't worry, this isn't putting the job of his district's school nurse at risk. Nurse Heather Gordon and a doctor must work as a team.

Gordon typically sees 60 to 80 students a day. If she thinks a child should be seen by a doctor, she calls the parents and invites them to the school for the exam and then gets Dr. Robert Zentz with St. Vincent Medical Group on the line. Dr. Zentz has more than 20 years of experience.

Using special exam equipment with cameras attached, the two work together to diagnose the problem.

A student might be seen for cuts, abrasions, rashes, pink eye, coughs, colds, strep throat, earaches and flu-like symptoms.

"It’s going to cut down the time that they’re out of school," said Gordon. "If they can stay at school, they can have a prescription ready and stay here and it'll be ready when they get home."

"I wouldn’t have to miss work and my child wouldn’t have to miss class," said parent Shari Vehikite. "I like that he can be seen right away and not have to wait for a couple days to get in."

After the exam, Dr. Zentz sends the exam notes to the child's family doctor.

"I’ve heard a lot of other parents say they are excited about not having to interrupt their day to be able to have their child seen right away," said Vehikite. "Sometimes as a parent, you get up first thing in the morning and think, oh they’re fine, once they get moving they’ll be just fine, but then we get that phone call a few hours into the day that says, oh no your child is sick, come get them. So it’s nice that it’ll be a lot more convenient that way."

Not only is it convenient, but it's been a lifesaver in other states.

"I think what was poignant to me, in Coldwater, Michigan, there was actually a kid that came in and during the appointment they found a heart defect and they were able to send that child to the University of Michigan hospital immediately," said Daughtry. "And so you think of it on a day-to-day, the sniffles, the sore throats, the things like that, but what if we do catch a major medical issue before it becomes life-threatening later on down the road? If you can save one person in this, that to me has made it worth it."

Services provided at the telehealth clinic will be billed to the insurance provider, and prescriptions will be sent to the pharmacy for parents to pick up.

The Intermediate and Community High School building is wired and ready to go. The elementary is getting equipment soon. There are about 1,500 students in the corporation.

The ribbon cutting for the clinic will take place Tuesday at 10 a.m.

The telehealth clinic was made possible by a partnership between Managed Health Services (MHS), Elwood Community School Corporation, Indiana Rural Health Association, Aspire Indiana and St. Vincent Mercy.

“This is a first-of-its-kind initiative, and we are excited to be a part of it," said Kevin O’Toole, MHS President and CEO. "MHS strives to remove barriers to accessing healthcare, and it’s our goal to help the students of Elwood be healthy and successful. Sometimes it’s hard to get your child to the doctor, and this partnership is an important step in providing convenient and high-quality healthcare options to students who might otherwise struggle to be seen. And that’s important because we know healthy students are better learners."

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