OSSUN — From an exam room in Carencro Middle School’s school-based health center, Dr. Donna Jean Wilson uses technology to reach out and treat young patients who are sitting in front of a camera about five miles away at Ossun Elementary.
Headaches, toothaches, and other aches and pains that typically would send some students off campus — either home or to the doctor’s office — are being treated via a new telemedicine clinic at the rural elementary school.
The clinic is linked to an existing school-based health center at Carencro Middle School that the school system operates in partnership with Lafayette General Health. The health system’s foundation donated the technology to launch the telemedicine clinic at Ossun and plans to fund the launch of three new telemedicine sites that also will connect students to the Carencro Middle school-based health center.
Ossun Elementary principal Kelli Clause said she’s already seen some immediate results from students having access to care on her campus.
“The students aren’t out of class as often or as long,” Clause said. “They’re not checking out frequently for minor illnesses.”
That means more spent time in the classroom getting instruction, she said.
School-based health centers have been on school campuses in Louisiana for more than 20 years. The goal is to meet students’ health and behavioral health needs where they spend the majority of their waking hours — at school — and also help keep them healthy to remain there.
The clinic had parental consent for about 270 of Ossun Elementary’s 835 students to receive care as of Sept. 30 and since then more have been added to the list, Clause said.
Since the telemedicine clinic opened in September, Wilson has seen 58 students. She said common ailments are headaches and other aches that in the past may have led to a parent having to leave his or her job to check the child out of school. She said she’s also seen several asthmatic students and was able to intervene early when they presented with wheezing symptoms.
The doctor is also able to give verbal orders for a registered nurse at the school, Maudrey Durand, to administer topical ointments — like Benadryl or Neosporin or over-the-counter medications to students to help ease their discomfort and send them back to class.
Previously, students didn’t have access to those over-the-counter interventions. School staff could only offer students ice, but to enhance its healing properties in the mind of a fraught student, staff often dubbed it “magic ice.”
“It’s great now that we don’t have to send them home for minor things,” Wilson said.
Another bonus even to distract a kid not feeling too great at school — “They think it’s fun to be on ‘TV’,” Wilson said.
A webcam in a small exam room at Ossun Elementary and specialized telehealth software and Bluetooth-enabled medical equipment allows Wilson to remotely examine patient’s with Durand’s assistance. A stethoscope allows Wilson to hear a student’s heartbeat and lungs and an otoscope records images of the ear canal and eardrum.
Wilson controls the camera — zooming to get closer to her patient. During a recent demonstration, she asked her mock-patient, the school system’s health and wellness director, Bradley Cruice, to open his mouth a tad wider and joked that he’s not as agile as her younger patients.
Cruice said records from visits so far show that students who have visited the telemedicine clinic are out of class for about 38 minutes. That’s a shorter amount of time than a half-day or longer if their parent had to check them out of school and make a doctor’s appointment, he said.
“If I’m sick, Mom leaves work. I might go to the ER or I may not get an appointment until the next day and I’m out of school longer,” Cruice said.
Wilson said the health services provided to the students aren’t designed to replace their pediatrician, adding that she consults with the child’s doctor.
It takes about $15,000 to $20,000 per site to set up the technology, said Cian Robinson, the foundation’s executive director. Cruice said the school system funds the nurse for the telemedicine clinic using existing staff.
The investment is good for the community, but also helps take pressure off of strained emergency departments, Robinson said.
“It keeps them out of our ER, which is extremely important for us,” he said.
The initiative also ties into workforce development because it helps keep parents on the job, Robinson said.
Durand’s personal experience the week before the Thanksgiving break served as an example of how a telemedicine clinic at a school can be beneficial. She had to leave work at Ossun Elementary to check on her daughter who wasn’t feeling well.
“She was out of class for two hours while it would have taken 30 minutes or less at a school-based health center,” Durand said.
Through the school system’s partnership with Lafayette General Health’s foundation, new telemedicine clinics will come online in the next 90 days at three other Carencro-area schools, Robinson said. The clinics will be located at Carencro Heights and Live Oak Elementary schools and Carencro High, she said.
As a way to provide access to more students, the school system started providing bus transportation for ill students from the three Carencro-area schools to the health center at Carencro Middle.
Only one other school-based health center exists in the parish at present. It is operated by Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center at Northside High School.
The goal is to expand the model to other feeder zones in the parish, Robinson said.
Robinson said the foundation may also expand the concept to other parishes where Lafayette General has a presence, such as St. Martin Parish.
The school system in St. Martin has three school-based health centers and students are now bused to those sites. However, for more remote school locations like Stephensville Elementary, a trip to the nearest health center takes a major chunk out of a student’s instructional time.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.