Telemedicine changes health-care access
Some students at two local Catholic schools are now able to visit their doctors without ever leaving their school buildings.
St. Rita School in Webster and St. Joseph School in Penfield recently joined the ranks of 17 other elementary schools and child-care centers participating in Health-e-Access, an experimental telemedicine program being studied by researchers at the Golisano Children's Hospital of the University of Rochester's Medical Center.
Through this program, each participating school and child-care center -- which are all located within Monroe County -- received high-quality videoconferencing equipment and digital cameras specifically designed for medical use. For example, one such camera is in an otoscope, which is used to examine a patient's ears, said Tina Cabisca, nurse manager for Health-e-Access.
This technology links the schools and centers to pediatricians from 11 participating pediatric practices in the Rochester area, Cabisca said. These pediatricians can examine ill students from miles away with the help of the cameras, videoconferencing equipment and a school staff person trained to use that equipment, she said.
After making a diagnosis, a pediatrician can phone in a prescription to the proper pharmacy, and in some instances that prescription can even be delivered to the child's school. This process saves time for parents, who no longer have to leave work for several hours to pick up a sick child, take the child to the doctor and pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, Cabisca said.
Two of the main goals of Health-e-Access are to keep children in their schools and centers and to keep parents at their places of employment, she said.
"The third goal is to keep people with their primary doctors and not in an after-hours or emergency-room situation for things that could be treated very easily," Cabisca said.
However, the telemedicine program is not designed to be used in every situation, she noted. Medical emergencies and well-child checkups should still be handled in person, she said.
When a pediatrician examines a child using the program's digital cameras, he or she can take still photographs of anything relevant, such as an infected ear, she said. If the child makes a follow-up visit, the pediatrician can then use these pictures to determine whether the child's condition has improved, Cabisca said.
After each telemedicine diagnosis, parents also receive a copy of the pediatrician's recommendations for treatment, she noted.
St. Rita's started using Health-e-Access in late March, and as of early June, 53 of the school's 220 families had returned the required consent forms and signed up to participate in the program, said Sister Katherine Ann Rappl, principal. So far, the program has been used approximately a dozen times, mostly to diagnose common illnesses such as strep throat.
Parents of St. Rita students were invited to a Health-e-Access learning fair before school officials implemented the program, and most parents seemed excited about the program, Sister Rappl said.
Parents who haven't signed up to participate may just be wary of the program because it is new and they're used to physically taking their children to their doctor, she added. For her part, Sister Rappl is optimistic about the her school's role in the study of telemedicine.
"It is the future, and if we can be in on the testing and experimenting with it, that's exciting," Sister Rappl said.
Many people are very interested in the results of this study, which is funded through September 2007, Cabisca said.
Doctors Kenneth McConnochie and Neil Herendeen, the program's principal investigators, want to learn more about the ways people access health care, she said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information about Health-e-Access, visit www.health-e-access.org.