County school system’s plan for telemedicine clinics almost complete

Published 8:47 am Monday, December 29, 2014

A project to help improve children’s access to medical care is nearing completion as the Carter County School system moves forward to create telemedicine health clinics in the schools.
In June of this year, members of the Carter County Board of Education approved a one-year contract with Integrated Care Professionals for the development of the clinics in the schools. The agreement is for a one-year term in order to determine if the program works for Carter County.
The telemedicine clinic system uses Internet and Web video chat technology to link the nurse and patient in the school to a nurse practitioner who can work with the nurse to diagnose and treat the patient on site, rather than having to send the student or staff member home from school to seek treatment on their own.
In the telemedicine clinic, the patient and the school nurse sit down in front of a computer terminal equipped with a high-definition web cam to talk with the nurse practitioner to discuss symptoms and treatments.
In addition to the computer, the clinic is also equipped with specialized instruments which can allow the nurse practitioner to see inside a patient’s ears or nose or examine their throat.
During a recent meeting of the Carter County Board of Education, Sonya Miller, who oversees the school system’s coordinated health program, updated members on the progress being made to create the clinics at each school.
“We currently have four of the units up and somewhat running,” Miller said. “From what I understand, the other units should be here shortly.”
When the first four units were installed, Miller said there some problems in the system but a software update is being worked on to correct the issues.
Some schools are also still working to prepare space for the new clinic equipment.
“There are some schools which do still have some HIPAA issues,” Miller said, adding those schools are working to find locations at the facility that can provide the needed privacy for those being seen in the clinic.
HIPAA – or the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – is a federal law that sets privacy standards to protect sensitive patient information. Under the act, patients must have sight and sound privacy from non-medical personnel while in a treatment area.
Even though many of the clinics do not have the new equipment installed, Miller said the program’s nurse practitioner – Sharon Smith – is already on board and has been visiting all the schools in the system.
The month of December has seen a lot of illness in the schools, Miller said, which has kept Smith and the nurses very busy.
“Our nurses are going absolutely wide open right now,” she said.
When the Carter County school system first began considering the installation of the telemedicine clinics, a workshop session was held with Integrated Care Professionals for instruction on the benefits and services offered by the program. ICP Vice President Tony Shipley said the financial support for the program comes from TennCare and from private insurance companies by billing the telemedicine visit with the nurse practitioner as any normal doctor’s office visit would be billed.
“All insurance companies in Tennessee will now pay for telemedicine visits,” Shipley said, adding that the initiative for such coverage started in the Tennessee State Legislature five years ago. “If you have a student who is indigent, has no TennCare or other insurance, we will see them for free.”
Shipley said the billing for the nurse practitioner consultation is what makes the program self-supporting and of no cost to the school system. He also said that no visit co-pays are collected at the school site, and that all billing will be handled by his company. ICP also pays for the cost of the clinic equipment as well as the salary for the nurse practitioner.

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