ASD pilot program brings telemedicine to local schools

By  | 

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - There's a new pilot program in a handful of Anchorage School District schools designed to help sick students get faster, more focused treatment.

"Nurse Kathy (Easley) came to me and said, 'Hey, Nick, I've got this opportunity to do telemedicine, here's what it would do, here's how it would work,'" said Nick Swift, principal of Gladys Wood Elementary, "and I said, 'That sounds like a great idea, let's go ahead and do it.'"

ASD includes about 40,000 kids, many of them visiting school nurses each day. Easley said she sees around 20 to 25 visits daily.

To help with more complicated cases, and to avoid unnecessarily taking kids out of class, the district is trying out a new pilot program, in which students are evaluated by the nurse and then get a remote doctor's professional opinion as well. The system is not for primary care, but for urgent cases, officials said, and is not meant to be a replacement for annual visits and the like.

Here's how it works: A student goes to the nurse's office, where the nurse can do an assessment - with the help of the new system - and send that information to doctors outside of the school. In this case, those providers come from PM Pediatrics Urgent Care.

"Of course, it starts with their parents," Straw said. "They have to consent, first and foremost."

If permission is granted, however, those doctors can often diagnose and even prescribe medicine from their offices without ever seeing the student in person.

"In this situation, students can go to the nurse, be seen, and if it's something minor enough, a prescription can be given for say an ear infection or something like that," Straw said.

Fifth-grader Trinity, for example, went in after feeling pain in her ear.

"Every night, it would just hurt," she said. "I couldn't get to bed until really late."

With her mom's permission, she underwent an evaluation, and quickly learned her pain was more than a little ear ache.

"I wasn't expecting to have an ear infection," Trinity said, "and for them to get to look inside my ear. It was very weird."

With the help of the off-site doctors, she got what she needed - an antibiotic - and was healed up in a flash.

"If a kid had strep throat or an ear infection," said Easley, a registered nurse and nationally certified school nurse, "this is a really great way to get that diagnosis without them waiting or having to move until later."

For now, the program is only in a handful of schools, but there may be more to come.

"The potential is awesome," she said. "It's another tool I can use. That's for sure."

The kit used by the school nurses thus far includes a $300 setup along with an iPad. Right now, because it's a pilot program, the provider group is covering most costs, and children without insurance are able to receive care. The spread of the program depends in large part on the success of it in the handful of schools where it's been implemented.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.