Virtual Urgent Care: Connecting Doctors with Students

New program introduced at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg is one of the first of its kind in the country

By Daniel Meyer

A new healthcare initiative designed to use telemedicine in a school nurse’s office is helping to break ground while aiming to meet current day healthcare challenges, which includes reducing chronic student absences and helping to eliminate the large amount of students having to leave school for doctor appointments.

The new program was launched in November following approval by officials in the Frontier Central School District, who agreed to work with Mobile Healthcare Partners as part of a partnership that provides telemedicine services to the school system at no charge by billing insurance companies for students who have health care coverage.

The use of video conferencing technology is connecting doctors to their patients who are students at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, which has close to 1,2000 boys and girls enrolled in grades six, seven and eight, the largest middle school in all of Erie County. It is believed this is one of only two programs of its kind to exist in New York state and is one of just a handful to be implemented in the entire country.

According to school district officials, nearly 14 percent of students who attended Frontier Middle School last year were defined as being “chronically absent,” meaning that each of those students had at least 18 or more documented absences during the 180-day school year. It is believed that a lack of healthcare and an inability for some families to have their children regularly visit a physician may have played a role in those students missing at least 10 percent of scheduled classroom instruction time.

“By increasing access to health care right in our nurse’s offices, we hope to be able to reduce the number of absences by seeing students become well faster,” said Richard J. Hughes, who serves as Frontier Central’s top administrator as district school superintendent. “We have also applied for grants that would allow us to expand the program to all Frontier students without spending local tax dollars.”

The Frontier school board was given a demonstration earlier this year that highlighted the many features of “remote doctor visits” that can take place inside the office of the school nurse, including providing medical care for numerous conditions, including sports injuries, seasonal illnesses and urinary tract infections, as well as helping identify mental health conditions.

The doctors are able to work with the nurse on duty at the school to review symptoms, analyze medications that the student is currently taking, perform examinations and ultimately develop a recommended treatment plan. Electronic scripts can then be sent to the student’s primary care doctor and any other medical specialists for specific issues diagnosed during the check-up.

Doctors are available by appointment or can be summoned as needed. There is also an option for parents if they are available to be patched into the call so they can observe and even provide information during a video doctor visit, with a recording of each visit also being available for parents who are not available at the time but want to later review what was discussed. In addition, school district officials say any student without health coverage will also be served.

Further advancements in technology leading to more in-depth remote doctor visits and acceptance of the program by other local school districts is expected in the future, but for now Frontier Middle School is the template that Mobile Healthcare Partners will use to gauge the slow rollout of telemedicine being used inside of a school nurse’s office.

“We look forward to working with parents and students as we pilot new ideas to positively impact our community,” said Hughes. “By providing an option for busy families to have access to medical care, we are embracing an initiative that we believe will help our students.”