Tusky Valley schools offers new telehealth service

Tusky Valley schools offers new telehealth service

Image Credit: Lori Feeney

Tusky Valley Local School District is part of a pilot telemedicine program that, according to district school nurse Debbie Crank, is changing the face of school nursing in Ohio.

The internet-based program helps ease the burden on parents whose children become sick at school or who are too sick to attend classes by allowing them to be examined by a nurse practitioner from home or school — no more waiting for hours at an urgent care or in an emergency department.

Instead, when students, teachers or staff members are under the weather, they can typically be seen in the nurse’s office within 10-15 minutes, where an exam can be conducted via telehealth.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Crank said. “We are taking school nursing from being just completing vision, hearing screenings and immunizations into providing care for our students and staff, and it’s very exciting.”

The telehealth program is a partnership between the school and Aultman school-based telemedicine program. Grant funding covered the upfront costs of the four telemedicine cars and salary for an RN dedicated to conducting the medical visits at Tusky Valley schools.

How a telehealth visit works

Chinelle Albaugh, RN, is Tusky Valley’s dedicated Aultman telehealth nurse. “I travel through the schools for students or staff that are in need of a visit,” she said.

All four school buildings in the district are outfitted with equipment that combines cameras, displays and internet access. Using secure, two-way communications, the school nurse collaborates with a nurse practitioner to examine the patient for just about any nonemergency condition.

“We can also connect parents to the visit through their laptops or cell phones,” Crank said.

In a recent telehealth appointment, Jillian Berkshire, Tusky Valley’s telehealth nurse who works through the Aultman Orrville Bolivar Health Center, examined a teacher seated in the clinic at the middle school. A few beeps came out of the telehealth unit, and Berkshire appeared.

“I feel like it’s in my ears, like my ears are scratchy,” said April Ernst, the teacher who allowed us to sit in on her visit.

Berkshire followed up with a number of questions.

Albaugh examined Ernst’s ears and inside her throat, and pictures of what she was seeing appeared on the screen. After a couple of other procedures, Berkshire provided a diagnosis, called in a prescription and advised Ernst of any future symptoms that may warrant a visit to the ER.

“What I really like about this is the follow-through and the follow-up, which I think is better than what we’ve seen in healthcare lately,” Albaugh said.

A report of the visit is kept at the school and also sent to Dr. Hiestand or Dr. Hillyer at the Bolivar clinic and the patient’s primary care physician. The school also takes care of billing the patient’s insurance company.

Those using the telehealth program do not have to be patients of Hiestand or Hillyer, nor do they have to change physicians. “It’s just as if you went to a stat care but way better,” Crank said.

Albaugh said parents and others using the program need not worry about privacy. The entire system is HIPAA secure. “I only have access to the information while I’m here at the school,” Albaugh said. “Once I’m at home, I’m locked out.”

What’s next?

Tusky Valley hopes to begin rolling out the program to family members of faculty and staff soon. “The nice thing about that is some staff members have kids in college, and they will be able to utilize our telehealth program too,” Albaugh said.

Currently, the only other Tuscarawas County school system offering the telehealth program is Claymont. “Other schools are calling us all the time, though, to see how it is working,” Crank said.

Long-term, additional grant funding is being sought to continue the program beyond June. “Given the success of the program, I think they’ll find a way,” Crank said.