Technology

Telemedicine for schools

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By Kashif Arif

Telemedicine is an newly emerging system in the developed world that utilizes video cameras, digital tools and telecommunications technology to remotely provide instant medical check up facilities for the students within the school campus – without actually visiting a doctor’s clinic.

The digital presence of a doctor in school creates myriad benefits for the students. As soon as a teacher notices that a student appears feverish in class, or seems to be suffering from cough or a sore throat, the teacher can respond instantly by taking the kid to a telemedicine nursing room within the campus, where the ailing student can be immediately examined on-line, by a qualified doctor sitting at a remote location.

The previous medical record of each student can also be made available to the doctor online, which enables him to be aware of the child’s specific conditions, prior to the diagnosis. The kid’s parents are immediately informed over the phone about the medical examination, diagnostic tests or cultures required and their permission is sought. The student’s health insurance status is also confirmed and a Telemedicine Technologist is ushered at the school. The test results are derived ASAP, and the Technologist logs the results over a secured server.

The physician now appears on a monitor screen, whereas the kid also becomes visible to the doctor through a screen at his clinic. Thus after this preparation the physician begins to evaluate the child’s condition, while going over the symptoms identified in the test results.

The doctor can visually check the ears through an electronic otoscope tied to the kid’s ears. An image of his eardrum appears on the doctor’s screen

A digital stethoscope on the student’s chest enables the doctor to hear the child’s heart beat and breathing sound. The doctor can ask him to open his mouth and check his throat and tonsils visually. After this check up the doctor simply dictates a prescription over the phone or emails it to the student or his parents. The parent can then pick up the kid from school and take him home for rest.

The Telemedicine technology has thus brought the physician’s clinic to the educational institutions with minimum capital expenditure. A basic medical check up through this method is usually over within one hour.

The same method is also being applied to enhance the outreach of medical care to remote rural areas with small populations, where the instant accessibility of a specialist doctor is not viable. This virtual clinic system can be a big help for such deprived villages and suburban communities.

This digital clinic can also allow the child to have an online interactive checkup with his specific family doctor, in case his school is located at a bigger distance from the doctor’s clinic. The diagnostic report can later be sent online to the parent’s preferred pediatrician. Thousands of telemedicine visits are being conducted through out the USA every year and numerous telemedicine programmes are successfully running throughout the developed world, including; the Georgia Partnership for TeleHealth, Center for Telemedicine & Telehealth at the University of Kansas Medical Center, in Kansas City and the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The major benefit of telemedicine is that the child is examined instantly within the school, rather than the delay and stress caused by traveling during sickness. Studies have shown that nearly 40% of the visits to a pediatric Emergency Department turn out to be a non-emergency case, and telemedicine allows us to short-list and reduce these unnecessary visits to the Emergency Rooms. Some schools have reported that after the introduction of telemedicine facilities the E.R. visits of the students have been reduced by over 20%.

Within an hour of hearing from the nurse, even the parents who are engaged at work, can video-conference with the school doctor, who can immediately relieve the parents’ stress about the kid’s condition. Thus, if it is not an emergency, the parents can simply continue with their office engagements, while the child receives the necessary care and relief within his school. Telemedicine also allows us to keep many kids away from the hospitals, which pose another threat of pathogens emerging from the large number of patients visiting or admitted in the healthcare facility.

Some schools have also begun mental performance evaluations and psycho-analysis of the students through telemedicine, to diagnose any signs of autism, ADHD or other mental-health issues. This is primarily done due to the lack of opportunities in day to day life for visiting a child psychiatrist, or to get the child’s mental health evaluated. In the USA, it has been observed that Child psychiatrists, psychologists, and autism-spectrum experts have always remained scarce. Therefore, telemedicine offers a large scale solution to enable the basic evaluation of mental performance of children. While the parents do not need to any break from their office work to drive the kid to a psychological testing facility.

December 13, 2013

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