School District to offer “virtual” medical services

Students who become ill in the Chester County public schools may soon be able to visit a local doctor without leaving school. The School Telemedicine Project, using a two-way computer system, is a collaborative effort between Dr. Sam Stone of Lowrys Family Medicine and the school district. It is aimed at keeping students healthy so they can do their best in school, district officials say. The initial implementation of this project will be at the Chester Park Elementary School complex. Superintendent Dr. Agnes Slayman expressed her support of the project.

“When I was approached about this, I thought, ‘this is novel to keep students in school and diagnose what is wrong,'” she said. “Eventually, we’ll use the program for our faculty. I’m very excited! I’m super excited!” At their meeting this month, board trustees were given a demonstration of how the process will work. Telemedicine is the use of information and communications technology to provide health care at a distance. This project will allow a student to visit the school nurse’s office and via computer technology, Dr. Stone will see and talk to the nurse and student to diagnose the student’s ailment. “He (Dr. Stone) will be able to hear the sounds in a student’s chest using an electronic stethoscope and look into (the student’s) throat and ears using an electronic otoscope just as if he were examining the patient face-to-face in his office, said Jean Ligon, the district’s director of special services.

At the recent board meeting, Ligon presented the project and introduced Dr. Jim Allen of the S.C. Rural Office of Medicine. “We are excited about this project,” Allen told the board. “It is a replica of our Charleston project.” Allen explained how his group will assist Stone and the school district. Polycom, a national manufacturer and distributor of telemedicine equipment, has agreed to loan the Upper Midlands Rural Health Network two telemedicine units to implement the project. “Dr. Sam Stone will see children with chronic illnesses and acute illnesses to determine if they can stay at school or need to go home,” Allen said. “This equipment will be on loan through the fall.”

Dr. Jim McElligott, an associate professor and pediatrician in the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, joined the discussion via the two-way computer system. He demonstrated to the board the experience of an actual doctor’s visit with a patient and school nurse.

“I am interested in under served areas and hoping to be part of the solution,” McElligott said. “The technology we’re showing here is expensive but we’re going a lower budget way of doing things.” McElligott will serve as the consultant to Stone and the school district during the implementation of the project. At board member Denise Lawson’s request, McElligott shared the start-up costs of the project. Projected equipment costs for a school set up are $8,000 to $10,000, he said. Costs include: $1,300 for the laptop computer, $1,300 for the otoscope, $1,100 for the stethoscope and $4,000 for the camera. A television monitor also is required. Stone and the school district would come under the licenses of the Medical University of South Carolina for real time use of the devises, McElligott said. “The project expects to sustain itself by Dr. Stone being able to bill Medicaid and private insurers for the services he provides to students in the school system,” Ligon said. “Currently, Medicaid reimburses for telemedicine treatment but only in a healthcare setting.”

A S.C. House bill was introduced in March to provide Medicaid reimbursements in a school setting. McElligott encouraged the board to consider this service for Chester County students to the benefit of all involved. “You have to have an engaged provider and an engaged school nurse,” he said. “You can do basically all that a doctor does in his office.”