For years, the Winooski School District has offered a health clinic to increase access to physical and mental health care for their students, part of an effort to reduce health disparities in one of the most diverse districts in Vermont. Now, even more students can get the care they need while in school, thanks to new technology, equipment and partnerships.

The new telehealth capabilities are helping students who may otherwise not be examined by a doctor.

What we do is we make things a heck-of-a-lot easier for parents and students. There’s zero missed time from school, and for parents, there is zero missed time from work. It completely takes out the issue of making an appointment, getting an appointment and taking time off.

Heather Link, MD, a pediatrician with The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital

The school-based health clinic has become “a hot service,” according to Elizabeth Parris, RN, BSN, a nationally certified school nurse who works as the district nurse and health office coordinator. Three mornings a week, the clinic is staffed by pediatricians from UVM Children’s Hospital and the Community Health Centers of Burlington, but even so, there remains a growing need for the health center to be open more hours.

So far this year, 56 students have been seen by a doctor in person at school, and technology that allows doctors to examine students remotely from their own practice will help meet increased demand. Working with UVM Medical Center, the school district recently installed an iPad-based system connected to stethoscopes, laryngoscopes and other instruments. Doctors can now see patients remotely any school day, not just the days that they staff the clinic in person.

“It takes the assistance of one of the school nurses here to manipulate the (scopes), but, with the iPad, doctors at their own office can hear heart and lung sounds and see throats and nasal cavities as they would here,” Parris says. “As parents, students and staff come in, that’s one of the new pieces of equipment we show them. Everyone is excited.”

Parris says students in the district, many of them New Americans, frequently experience barriers to receiving care.

It really helps parents who may have transportation or language barriers, or parents who are working who can’t leave their jobs. They don’t have to worry about, ‘Do I leave my job and maybe get fired?’ We remove those barriers here.

Elizabeth Parris, RN, BSN

The clinic typically sees between 300 and 500 students each school year, and more than 90 percent of students receive care without leaving school – ensuring their access to education is not reduced. All students must have signed permission from a parent to see the doctor.

It’s all making a big difference for many students. “I know that they never come to our [pediatric] office and I know that I see them routinely in the school,” Dr. Link says.

Now that the clinic is well-established, Dr. Link said she hopes more pediatricians can participate in remote visits – so students can maintain their health as well as an ongoing relationship with a doctor.

The beauty of that would be that any child could connect to their own primary care physician, allowing the doctor that knows you best to see you at any time.

Heather Link, MD

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