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TeleMedicine may be coming to local school districts

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 March 2019 at 9:12 pm

HOLLEY – The Orleans County Health Department wants to facilitate TeleMedicine for local school districts, where sick students and possibly even staff could have access to a doctor or nurse practitioner. They would diagnose a health problem and prescribe medication. The diagnosis likely would be sent to a child’s primary care doctor.

Frontier Middle School in Hamburg is the first school in the state to offer the program. Frontier started working with Mobile Health Partners in October. Now, Orleans County health officials want to bring the program to local school districts.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Paul Pettit, the county’s Public Health director. “We’ll be one of the first places in the state to try it.”

Pettit said the county’s access to primary care physicians is one of the worst ratios in the state. In Orleans it’s one primary care doctor for every 13,780 residents. That compares to the state average of 1 primary care doctor for every 1,200 people, and a national average of 1 to 1,326 people.

“We want to improve access to care,” Pettit said. “Right now we have one of the worst accesses to health providers.”

Many parents struggle to get students to doctor’s appointments due to work commitments or transportation issues, he said.

With TeleMedicine, students would go the nurse’s office, where the nurse would check pulse and blood pressure. The nurse would direct a robot that can “see” in ears and in throats. Those images could be seen offsite by a doctor, nurse practitioner or nurse’s assistant.

Holley schools officials discussed the program during the Board of Education meeting on Monday. The district likes the idea. The access to health professionals could help prevent illnesses or limit sicknesses to the early stages. That would improve attendance.

“Ultimately our goal would be to have them not be so ill so they can be in school and learning,” Brian Bartalo, the Holley superintendent, told the Board of Education on Monday.

The program would be grant funded for the start-up costs and the first year, with the services also being billed to insurance companies or Medicaid, Pettit said.

Bartalo said parent permissions would be needed for any student to participate in the program.

Pettit said the permissions or parent consent forms could be sent out during the beginning of next school year.

The Health Department has already met with Holley school leaders about the program, and will be having a meeting with officials from all five school districts in the county. The company and the robot would be available for demonstrations to show schools how it works.

Pettit would like to have the program start in Orleans this fall.

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