Telehealth clinic allows students to see physician in school

A sick child used to mean a parent taking time off off work and a child missing school, but young patients can now see the doctor without leaving Elwood Intermediate School in Madison County

When a child is sick at school, he or she will go to the school nurse's office. If the nurse deems it necessary, the student can be seen by Dr. Robert Zentz of St. Vincent Medical Group with technology similar to Skype video chatting.

Elwood Community School Corp. is one of the first schools in Indiana to have a telehealth clinic. It teamed with Managed Health Services, Indiana Rural Health Association, Aspire Indiana and St. Vincent Mercy Hospital.

When a child is seen by a health provider at school, parents will be alerted to see if they would like to join.

ECSC Superintendent Chris Daughtry said he is optimistic about how students will open up to video chatting.

"They said it's amazing how kids will open to a computer screen than having an adult sitting in the room that they don't know," he said. "The intimidation factor isn't there."

The school nurse, who is Heather Gordon at Elwood Intermediate, works as the doctor's hands and examines the child. Gordon said the equipment used to look into the child's ears and throat magnifies and provides a better look than the doctor might get otherwise.

"He can actually see it better than if he was just looking in his office," Gordon said.

Cuts and abrasions, rashes, pink eye, coughs, colds, strep throat, earaches or flu-like symptoms can all be examined using the telehealth clinic. Antibiotics the child might need will be available at the school.

Children will also be able to receive counseling service through the telehealth clinic. The child will be to video chat with a counselor at Aspire Indiana without leaving school.

The billing for the appointment will be sent to the parents' insurance, just as if they had taken the child to the doctor's office.

Daughtry said he is looking forward to increasing the health care for students in the rural community.

"There are a lot of rural areas where your closest doctor may not be downtown but 20 miles away," he said. "It kind of brings schools back to being the center of the community again, which I think is important."

The program is also designed to lower the amount of emergency room visits at the hospital that are for simple issues, such as the ones the telehealth clinic will be able to assess and treat.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Sept. 6. As of Tuesday, the equipment for the clinic was not up and running, Gordon said, but she said once it is, she thinks the clinic will get plenty of use.

"There has been a couple cases when I thought, 'Gosh, I wish it was up and running because I'd use it now,'" she said.

Jenni Hill, Community Health Outreach program manager at the rural health association, said she expects similar clinics in other rural communities throughout Indiana.

The amount of students who receive free and reduced lunches and county health rankings were two criteria when choosing Elwood as the first community to receive one of the telehealth clinics.

Hill said IRHA hopes to open anywhere from three to six clinics a year.

"To me, I think this is going to become a model of what's going to happen all across the state," Daughtry said.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.