Fickett Elementary School fourth grader Sonja Leonard stared in amazement at the computer screen before her, peering eagerly to see the pinkish, fleshy portion of her inner ear.
Sonja, however, wasn’t at the doctor’s office for a routine visit. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, Sonja and her mother joined dozens of other Fickett Elementary School students and parents to see the unveiling of an innovative telehealth pilot program that is equivalent to having a doctor or a specialist at their school.
The system will go live in October, and represents a tremendous opportunity to fundamentally change the ways that school health care professionals access quality healthcare on behalf of children while at school.
“I love it, and the technology makes seeing the doctor much easier,” said Sonja’s mom, Frances Smith.
Sponsored in partnership with CareSource, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) and Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, this innovative program is believed to be the first of its kind in metro Atlanta. The state-of-the-art diagnostic technology enables Fickett to support long-distance clinical healthcare for students, allowing unprecedented access to medical doctors – all without having to leave school and their parents missing work.
Using specialized equipment, this ‘virtual doctor’ technology now expands access to care for all students at Fickett. The telehealth hardware will allow capabilities like real-time videoconferencing, store-and-forward high-resolution imaging, and other diagnostic technology to support and promote long-distance clinical health care.
The program will be similar to having a network of virtual doctors available at Fickett Elementary. For instance, if a student has a cold, ear infection, asthma or other illness, a specialized physician from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta will be easily accessible for diagnostics and available to recommend treatment based on a virtual exam.
“The technology is wonderful,” said Satonya Kimbro, school nurse at Fickett. “As healthcare professionals, this allows us to assist more students and prevents them from going to the emergency room. We can also call in prescriptions, which prevents parents from missing work and going to the hospital, all while allowing kids to stay in school.”
CHOA will begin providing medical services for students in mid-October. If successful, there is the potential to grow the program and use Fickett as a model for how schools can implement telehealth services.
Dr. Nicole Spiller, director of Student and Intervention Supports for Atlanta Public Schools, said the collaboration will allow APS to advance healthcare for all of students.
“This project removes barriers to students’ access to healthcare while ill, while also alleviating the inconveniences for a parent who would otherwise have to leave work to bring the child to a doctor’s appointment,” Dr. Spiller said. It’s our intention is to use this pilot as a model of virtual patient care and potentially expand to other APS schools and clusters.”