Hawkins County using telemedicine in schools

ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Students in the Hawkins County school system will be able to see a nurse practitioner and get diagnosed with an illness or injury via a live computer feed. It's part of new technology being introduced into the school system.

The blossoming telemedicine program will feature the same kind of equipment found in a doctor's office, except for it will use live video feed to transfer images to nurse practitioners or a doctor.

"What the nurse practitioner is seeing is a live feed," said Keith Osborne, director of school-based health centers at Rural Health Services Consortium. "They're able to discuss what they're seeing with the student, and the nurse is collecting the data just like if they were in the same room together. We can make a diagnosis and prescribe medications."

The technology features a blue tooth stethoscope that syncs with the stethoscope used on a student, so the nurse practitioner can hear the sounds of the child's heartbeat and lungs on the other end. The nurse can look at a student's eyes, ears, nose and throat using a viewing scope that transmits images to a monitor.

Currently the county's two main high schools are the only schools that have clinics, and a mobile clinic travels back and forth to the county's 17 other schools. The telemedicine equipment is expected to help meet the huge demand for health care within the school system.

During the 2012-13 school year, there were a total of 5,183 clinic visits, 3,158 nurse visits and 1,657 "sick visits" with a nurse practitioner. That doesn't include other services provided by RHSC, including 691 sports physicals, 564 immunizations, 230 flu vaccinations and 66 ADD/ADHD consultations.

Parents must give permission before a student can see an RHSC nurse practitioner because the student's health insurance is billed.

The school system has two sets of equipment for the telemedicine, each costing $8,000. Officials with the RHSC are hoping to get a federal grant that would pay for telemedicine equipment for nurses' offices for 17 Hawkins County schools.


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