STAT, July 19, 2017
Leah Samuel

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School nurses offer far more than just Band-Aids these days. As the prevalence of childhood conditions like asthma and diabetes have risen, nurses treat a wide range of problems. Still, only an estimated 40 percent of U.S. schools have a full-time nurse, according to the National Association of School Nurses.

But now telemedicine — virtual doctor visits over video — is increasingly helping nurses do their jobs. Telemedicine programs are making inroads in schools, where a student referred to the nurse can be plopped in front of a screen and connected with a physician. Special computer-connected otoscopes and stethoscopes allow doctors to check ears, noses, throats, and heartbeats from afar.

Proponents say telemedicine in schools can bring benefits such as the ability to treat more complex conditions and keeping chronically ill kids in school.

And a report on a school telemedicine program in Rochester, N.Y., found that it “redressed socioeconomic disparities in acute care access in the Rochester area, thus contributing to a more equitable community.”

But the programs are still relatively new and the ability of schools to fund them long-term isn’t guaranteed. Funding sources can change from year to year, school district to school district. A patchwork of private insurance, Medicaid, grants, and families paying out of pocket covers existing school telemedicine programs.

“The value of telemedicine depends on what your telemedicine model is,” said Dr. Kenneth McConnochie, professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, where he helped develop the telemedicine program. “For that reason, some kids are gonna get lousy care.” [...]

doctor-patient relationship health care finance health information technology insurance medical safety medicaremedicaid pediatrics public health