Children's hospitals have increasingly turned to school-based telehealth programs to increase access to care by meeting children where they are. But what happens when schools sit empty—or sparsely populated—amid a pandemic?
"If kids aren't in school, they can't use our traditional school telehealth program," says Karen Kaighan RN, M.S.N., M.P.H., director of school health services, Children's Health in Dallas. "So, we started discussing with our leadership about how we can reach kids at home so they can still see a Children's Health provider while they're learning virtually—it brought us to a school telehealth at-home model."
Increased access benefits more students, health care system
Children's Health's school-based telehealth program serves students in more than 225 schools across nearly 30 school districts in the Dallas metropolitan area. School-based telehealth is a vital resource for accessing health care in those districts—especially for those students without a medical home. Expanding health care access for all students—whether physically in a school building or not— reduces further strain on the hospital system.
"For those kids who can't get in to see their provider for whatever reason—whether their physician is limiting access points for kids, spacing out schedules or if they just can't get in the same day to see their provider—this is another opportunity to be seen without having to go to the emergency room or a hospital setting," Kaighan says. "This opens up more access points for families."
By leveraging the same technology students are using to participate in remote classes, the at-home care model closely resembles the same patient experience students are accustomed to in the traditional school-based telehealth model.
Program aids school nurses with products and training
Another important aspect of the program is supporting its network of school nurses, according to Kaighan. Ahead of resuming in-person classes this past fall, Children's Health hosted a variety of services, including:
- School nurse education. Children's Health helped train more than 900 school nurses across the region on school-based care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Face masks. The hospital provided 160,000 face masks at no cost to its school district partners along with proper mask-fitting guidance.
- Screening app. For partner schools that required students and staff be screened prior to entering their campuses, Children's Health provided a daily wellness check app to help facilitate those screenings.
Telehealth offerings continue to expand
Kaighan says she expects the program's usage to expand as more students and their families become aware of its offerings. And like many process and technological advances that have gained traction in the wake of the pandemic, she expects in-home school-based telehealth to continue beyond the restrictions of COVID-19.
"This is another stepping-stone for virtual access for all families," Kaighan says. "We're just getting started with what the virtual care opportunities are going to continue to look like across north Texas with all our partners. It's expanding across our institution and there's so much more space for us to cover."