Pulling a sick child out of school in the middle of the day can be a difficult proposition, especially when the parent is stuck at work and the hospital is miles away. But what if we could use advanced equipment to instantly transport a doctor or specialist into a school nurse’s office at the push of a button?
One Georgia-based health system is aiming to do just that, with the help of telehealth technology. Teaming with insurer WellCare and the Georgia Partnership for TeleHealth, Appling HealthCare System recently began rolling out the offering at Appling County High School and Appling County Elementary, both in Baxley, Ga. Now, if a child is sick enough to warrant a doctor’s visit, the system can video in one of the health system’s physicians, or one of about 150 specialists from a network of providers stretching across the state, including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta more than 200 miles away.
The program is all part of the health care system’s drive to reach outside its four walls to increase access to care for its patients in an affordable fashion, says Robin Crosby, director of education and marketing for Appling HealthCare System. Early success, she believes, wouldn’t have been possible without buy-in from the schools.
“We have been very fortunate that our educators and superintendent really understand the benefit of a healthy student,” she says. “They’ve been on board from the get-go and great advocates and promoters of the program.”
Of course, funding such technology-based initiatives can be a challenge for small organizations like the 64-bed acute care hospital, which is also based in Baxley. But the system has been able to pilot the effort with funding from WellCare to help with the necessary equipment and staffing. Appling HealthCare is now looking to further expand telehealth into six more schools, thanks to a three-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Crosby expects that next phase to debut in early 2016, with further use of telemedicine planned at local nursing homes.
Insurers are similarly bullish on the possibilities of using telehealth to expand care offerings into underserved areas.
"WellCare is committed to increasing access to health care for those in rural and underserved communities like Appling County," John Alexander Johnson, M.D., senior medical director for WellCare Health Plans, said in a press release. "Telehealth is an easy, convenient and effective way to increase access to care, as it can provide an array of services that include assessment and diagnosis, medication management and individual and group therapy."
For more on telemedicine, be sure to check out our March feature story on the topic. Columnist Sita Ananth also recently explored how three northern California health systems are experimenting with patient care via video.