Texas experienced the largest jump in the nation of uninsured children this year, and Dallas is one of the cities with the worst rate of uninsured citizens in the country, meaning many children are not receiving regular wellness checkups or other preventative care. In response, Children’s Health launched a partnership with schools around DFW to provide telehealth to students who need it in schools last year. But with many students staying home and not coming to school where they could have received care, Children’s Health launched its telehealth at home service this October to extend care to those in need.
The school telehealth program extends to 27 school districts and 227 schools that include public and charter school programs. The school nurse operates a cart or tablet provided by Children’s Health, and the nurse facilitates appointments with a provider from the health system. The equipment has attachments that allow the remote provider to inspect the skin, throat, ears, and eyes. The provider can then prescribe medicine right there on the spot to be picked up after school.
“The telehealth program was designed to keep kids in school as long as they didn’t meet the exclusion criteria of having to leave school,” says Karen Kaighan, director of school health programs at Children’s Health. “We envision that we’ll be actively using this program because it gives families more access to a Children’s provider at home.”
The appointment may be the student’s only regular contact with a health provider and can help parents stay at work, keep kids in school, and keep children out of costly emergency room or urgent care appointments. The appointment can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by quickly establishing whether or not the patient has symptoms of COVID-19 or another infectious disease. Additionally, the appointment could keep the child in school if their symptoms wouldn’t exclude them from school, like an ear infection.
Now with many children at home through either choice or a mandated quarantine, Children’s Health launched an app to help them have access to providers while they learn remotely. Families can download the Children’s Health nurse visit app and schedule an appointment when they will be connected with a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner during school and business hours. The access is being pushed out to all 227 schools.
For students who have newly arrived to the area or even the country or those who move frequently, school might be the most consistent place they know. While there currently aren’t plans to use the program to provide wellness visits and regular checkups for kids who do not have a regular pediatrician, it could be an excellent opportunity to expand care to those who don’t have it, says Jessica Haas, the school nurse at Wallace Elementary in Richardson ISD.
The program will communicate with the child’s primary care provider after a telehealth visit to make sure there is a smooth transition between providers and to allow the student’s doctor to follow up if they have one.
“We want their kids to go to their primary care providers to do those visits,” Kaighan says. “We connect with PCPs as part of this program, and we’re here to support them.”