The Rapid Expansion of School-Based Telehealth Programs

Programs Will Increase Students’ Access to Behavioral Counseling and Concussion Assessment Services

Several states are launching school-based telehealth programs with the goal to increase student access to healthcare services. Students will be able to access concussion assessment, behavioral counseling, and primary care services through these various programs. Over the last couple of years, twelve states have designated schools as an approved patient setting for receiving telehealth services. 

As a result, several states are increasing the use of in-school telehealth services. These programs have the potential to improve the wellbeing of students and staff, decrease absentee rates, and help students recover from traumatic incidents. 

Increasing Access to Behavioral Counseling Services

When Hurricane Michael struck the panhandle region of Florida in 2018, it left many students and families displaced. The storm resulted in $25 billion in damage, the tenth-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history. 

With over 35,000 students still recovering from the storm, Governor Ron DeSantis announced a sweeping disaster recovery program last June, which includes a telehealth program that gives sixty local schools access to on-demand behavioral counseling services. 

The program is being funded in part by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which sent $2.3 million to the Department of Children and Families that will be used to pay counselors through 2020, and the federal Department of Education, which has offered $1.25 million to add licensed social workers to each campus throughout the Bay County school district. 

The program, which went into effect at the beginning of the school year, features telemedicine stations where students can connect with a mental health counselor without leaving campus. All students need is a referral from a guidance counselor and written consent from a parent or guardian to access these services. Once the session is complete, the parent or guardian will be able to access a summary of the session using the mHealth app. 

The state continues to grapple with a healthcare provider shortage. Around 40% of healthcare providers in the region have lost employees as a result of the storm. Hundreds of children have since sought referrals to mental health counselors, including those seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Keeping Student Athletes Safe on the Field

Georgia recently announced its own school-based telemedicine program, which will give around 6,000 high school students access to on-demand concussion testing and treatment services. Student concussions have become an urgent concern for many school districts across the country. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 15% of high school students experienced one or more concussions in 2017, and 6% experienced two or more. These estimates include students that self-report their injuries anonymously, often as a way of hiding their injuries from parents and coaches. 

Georgia’s telehealth program is designed to increase student access to medical services in the event of a head injury. The program was a joint venture between the Wade County School District and Gwinnet Medical Center-Duluth’s Concussion Institute. Students will use the state’s Global Partnership for Telehealth’s Pathways platform to connect with concussion specialists at GMC within 24 hours. 

Specialists will provide ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) and care management services to students. This information will then be shared with parents, guardians, school nurses, primary care providers, athletic staff, and educators to better facilitate and coordinate care. 

The Benefits of School-Based Telehealth

When students need to see their primary care provider, counselor, or a specialist, it usually means taking time off from school. Parents may need to miss work to secure transportation for their children. In rural areas or those suffering from a care provider shortage, the nearest care specialist may be several hours away or more. School-based telemedicine programs help students quickly connect with care providers without missing class. These programs have the potential to improve absentee rates and student performance.

School-based telehealth programs can also reduce the burden placed on school nurses and guidance counselors. The national average student-counselor ratio was 482 to 1 in the 2014-2015 school year, the most recent year for which data is available. School shootings, wildfires, and tropical storms have dominated headlines across the country in recent years. These programs illustrate how telehealth can benefit schools still recovering from a traumatic incident. Telehealth is changing the way school districts address the needs of their students. States across the country are launching or have plans to launch school-based telehealth programs, including traditional direct-to-patient care and specialty services like concussion assessment and behavioral counseling. All students deserve access to healthcare regardless of where they go to school. Learn more about the telemedicine services that can supplement school healthcare at  InTouch Health.