LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Starting in March, students at Ossun Elementary with earaches, sore throats or other common sick-at-school ailments will be seen on the elementary school campus by a doctor in an exam room about five miles away at Carencro Middle School's school-based health center.
Through technology, such as Bluetooth-enabled stethoscopes, otoscopes and ophthalmoscopes, pediatrician Dr. Donna Wilson will see patients at the elementary school as part of a telehealth program. The telehealth program is a partnership between the Lafayette Parish School System and Lafayette General Health and its foundation.
The telehealth initiative will be tested first at Carencro Middle, where the school system opened a school-based health center in 2010. The goal is test the telehealth model and explore a more cost-effective way to expand school-based health services across the district, said Bradley Cruice, the school district's director of health and wellness.
The impact of school-based health services also helps parents because they don't lose time from work to handle their child's minor ailments, Cruice said.
"Research indicates that students who have improved health outcomes have improved academic outcomes," Cruice said. "If you're sick or not feeling well, you're not going to have as good academic outcomes. For the school system, it's about instructional time. Nationally, statistics are 80 to 85 percent of the students evaluated and treated in a school health center go back to class. In our two school-based health centers (at Carencro Middle and Northside High), that's 90 to 95 percent."
Students with symptoms that need attention will be seen by a nurse who will assist with the doctor's remote exam, Cruice said.
"What the nurse hears and sees through those devices, the physician will hear and see at the Carencro school-based health center," Cruice said. "In conjunction with that, there's a camera where the physician will be able to see the child. One screen, the physician will see what is being seen by the scopes and also see live shots of the nurse and child interaction."
Lafayette General has provided the equipment and technology for the telehealth program and the district supplies the school nurse, who was already employed at the school, Cruice said.
The telemedicine project is the first major investment of the Lafayette General Foundation, said Geoff Daily, the foundation's executive director. The foundation started in 2011, but last year focused on a goal of investing in innovative projects, Daily said.
"Our goal is to find new ways to expand the mission of Lafayette General, which is to restore, maintain and improve health," Daily said. "We believe strongly in the power of bringing health care to the students of Lafayette and the impact that has on their health and academics."
The catalyst for the telemedicine project grew out of the success of the hospital's first telemedicine clinic at Stuller Inc., the Lafayette-based international jewelry manufacturing and supply facility, Daily said.
"While this is a pilot, it's not an experiment in that we've already proven the model out at Stuller. This is a model that's worked at Stuller for two years now and has had a lot of success," Daily said.
Parents must enroll their child and give permission for the child to receive health services, Cruice explained. The students' medical data is transferred over a closed network.
"We do not want to replace anyone's primary care physician. We do not want to become anyone's medical home. We just want to be able to provide episodic health services to our students so they can return to class," he said.
Last month, the school system started school bus service from Carencro High for sick students who needed to see a doctor at Carencro Middle's school-based health center.
"We have increased the capacity at that clinic by 300 percent and increased health services to two additional schools without direct increase cost to the school system," Cruice said.
He said eventually, bus pick-ups will expand to Carencro Heights Elementary and Live Oak Elementary, both within a few miles of Carencro Middle.
The long-term goal is for every high school feeder zone to have a school-based health center and to provide health services to students at other schools within the zone, Cruice said. Currently, there is only one other school-based health center at Northside High, which opened in 1996 and is operated by Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, not the school system.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com