Sick at school? The doctor’s right here … on video

By Bobby Bryant, Editor,

Parents of students at a handful of Darlington County public schools are getting an unusual consent form to consider: It asks if they want to enroll their child in “telemedicine.”

If they agree, their child will have an option besides the school nurse if he or she gets sick at school: Using a “groundbreaking” program called the Telehealth Initiative, a doctor or nurse practitioner can talk to the child by video link and examine the student long-distance using devices like an electronic laryngoscope, with tiny camera, to look down the throat.

“We plan to promote a culture of wellness,” said Louise Johnson, an S.C. Department of Mental Health official who helped the Darlington County School District kick off the Telehealth Initiative at a Feb. 1 news conference. “We plan to remove all barriers to care that could possibly interfere with academic success.”

As Darlington County Schools Superintendent Tim Newman put it: “Schools for so long have been very focused on the academic well-being of our children. That’s what we do every day. But I think all of us realize, as time has gone by, that we also have to be concerned about … our students’ physical health as well as their mental health.”

The pilot program being launched in Darlington County will do both. District officials say it’s the only one of its kind in the state so far that can address both physical and psychiatric problems.

A total of five Darlington County schools are taking part in the Telehealth Initiative, which is largely run by the Medical University of South Carolina, but also involves several other agencies and organizations including Carolina Pines hospital in Hartsville, CareSouth Carolina, The Medical Group, Morphis Pediatric Group, the state Education Department and the state Department of Mental Health. There is no cost to local taxpayers, officials said.

Four Darlington County public schools are taking part in the “physical care” side of the program: Lamar Elementary, Pate Elementary in Darlington, North Hartsville Elementary and Southside Early Childhood Center in Hartsville. Lamar Elementary, Pate, North Hartsville Elementary and Darlington County Intervention School are also taking part in the psychiatric side of the initiative.

Insurance carriers will be billed for the electronic doctor visits, according to the consent forms being sent to parents. Co-pays and deductibles also apply, and S.C. Medicaid covers the video visits, the consent forms say.

The key piece of technology that allows the program to work – to connect kids and doctors electronically – looks like a large computer screen, topped with a video camera, on a rolling white cart. At the school district’s news conference, Dr. Kathryn King Cristaldi, medical director for school-based health at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Center for Telehealth, used the help of a young volunteer to show how the system can send video feeds to a doctor.

Author: Rachel Howell

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