Telehealth at School: See the Doctor Without Skipping Class


Imagine a day when your child needs to see a doctor, but they don’t have to leave school and you don’t have to leave work for an appointment. At O’Brien Middle School, telehealth will be used to connect students to providers at their practice locations in Washoe County.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 50 percent of students miss one to five days of school due to illness or injury. Physical and mental health affect attendance and learning, so Renown Health is partnering with Northern Nevada HOPES and the Community Health Alliance to bring high quality, medical care to William O’Brien Middle School through telehealth to decrease time away from the learning environment.

O’Brien Middle School is the first in Washoe County to have a telemedicine cart outfitted with medical devices including a digital stethoscope, ENT (ear, nose, throat) scope and high resolution camera, along with secure video conferencing capability that links a medical provider directly to a Renown medical assistant at the school. The goal is to provide healthcare services for children when they need it and at a convenient location.

“Think of this as virtual pediatric population health management, in which we focus on prevention, improving access, improving quality and improving healthcare affordability,” says Kirk Gillis, Renown Health vice president of accountable care.


What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine technology allows a remote medical provider, along with the on-site medical assistant, to perform a patient exam to treat a student immediately for a number of common or contagious conditions such as pink eye and sore throat, as well as manage chronic conditions for children who use medications on a regular basis.

During the virtual visit, the consulting medical provider gives a real-time diagnosis. The parent can join via their own video-enabled device (such as a smart phone, tablet  or laptop) to discuss the diagnosis and even call in any needed prescriptions, effectively skipping a visit to their pediatrician or urgent care.

As part of the program, O’Brien Middle School parents now have the convenience of scheduling primary care appointments and same day appointments daily.

Socially, telemedicine enables parents and children to have more family time at home after school, rather than an after-hours appointment or a visit to urgent care or the emergency room. It may also ease the stress and anxiety of children going to an unfamiliar medical office or hospital, rather than the comfort of a familiar school setting.

Managing Chronic Conditions

While the convenience of telemedicine for a sudden illness is a perk for parents, even more valuable is the access to on-site medical care in school to manage any chronic conditions a child may have. In a study from The Journal of Pediatrics, kids with type 1 diabetes who participated in the school-based telemedicine program had better blood sugar control and fewer ER visits than kids who did not have the program available to them. School-based telemedicine allows ongoing monitoring and tailoring of medications specific to each child. Other school districts have used telemedicine for several years, seeing significant improvement of asthma symptoms in students, one of the most common chronic childhood conditions.

In addition, telemedicine can help to diagnose and treat mental-health issues in children such as ADHD with a specialty behavioral health care visit. Other specialty telehealth appointments available include ear, nose and throat (ENT), health improvement programs such as nutrition and diabetes education, neurology (brain and nerves), endocrinology (hormones and glands), hematology/oncology (blood) and pulmonary (lungs).

Covered by Insurance

Telehealth is also covered by insurance, including Medicaid. In 2015 Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval authorized the Telehealth Equity Act, legislation that mandates telehealth coverage parity by all health insurance programs operating in Nevada, including Medicaid.

“Since 2011, Renown TeleHealth has virtualized the entire care continuum, by optimizing access to the healthcare services they need and we plan to build the school based telehealth network,” Gillis says.