LAFAYETTE — By next school year, Lafayette Parish students’ physical and mental health issues could be tracked electronically for more effective and efficient programs to improve student health, school district officials said Wednesday.

Social workers and nurses track students’ visits and care in a file folder system, which makes for a “labor-intensive” analysis when evaluating health programs systemwide, said Bradley Cruice, the school system’s health and wellness director.

An electronic student health record system is under development in partnership with the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Public Health, Cruice said.

Under the new system, parents could easily access their child’s health information, he said.

The child’s health care providers — on and off campus — also would have access to the information via the Louisiana Health Information Exchange, a network that enables authorized health providers to share and access patient health information electronically.

Think of LaHIE as railroad tracks that enable health information to flow back and forth between health care providers, whether at a hospital, physician’s office, or a school nurse’s office, said Gary Asmus, management information systems director at the Picard Center.

“The student’s health information can be put on that network and shared with the primary care physician,” Asmus said. “It becomes a two-way communication street. It’s taken the school nurse from being a stand-alone individual in the school and integrating them into the community’s health care system.”

The electronic tracking system in the early stages, but a system could be online by next school year, he said.

A comprehensive electronic system will enable the district to track data on student visits for services, care received and outcomes to evaluate effectiveness, Cruice said.

For example, if the district implemented a program to target childhood obesity in every school, the electronic system would enable the district to track students’ progress over several years, he said.

“It’s comprehensive in that we could look at the effects of the obesity on not only their physical health, but their mental health,” Cruice said.

“How many times did they visit the social worker? Were there improvements? After the program is initiated and they’ve been on it for six months or a year, have they had fewer visits to a social worker?” he said.

Tracking data will help the system in billing for Medicaid reimbursements and cut the additional expense of a billing agent, said Asmus, a professor of child development at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The Picard Center is helping the school district devise a funding strategy to staff each school with full-time nurses, Asmus said.

The district’s schools are assigned nurses who split their time at more than one school.

Social workers’ time is also split among schools. As part of a test model for a health and wellness team concept, 11 schools have a full-time nurse and full-time social worker to manage students’ health concerns.

The goal is to expand the team concept and full-time nurse and social work staffing to all schools by next school year, Cruice said.