Telemedicine in Howard County: Where are we today?

The Howard County Health Department School Based Wellness Centers Telemedicine Program is in its second year of providing acute health care services to the children attending five, Title I elementary schools in Columbia. The main goal of the program is to decrease missed school time for children with minor health complaints. Health problems eligible for a telemedicine visit include common childhood symptoms involving the lungs up to the eyes, typical headaches for children with an established headache diagnosis, and exposed skin. Plans for community providers to see their patients for ADHD and medication management are being developed.

Telemedicine programs are multiplying exponentially across the country and the world. Some leaders in school-based health believe that “telemedicine is the next frontier for school health.

A new provider model has been introduced this school year in which children are able to receive care from their primary care providers. Nine community pediatric practices have joined the Health Department’s telemedicine provider network and see their patients via telemedicine. These practices directly bill the health insurers and families. Howard County General Hospital pediatric emergency room pediatricians provide care for children whose providers are not in the network or are unavailable. Another program change for this school year is the addition of a sixth school in mid-November, Ducketts Lane Elementary. To date, there are 966 children (30.8% of the combined schools’ populations) enrolled in the telemedicine program and there have been 66 visits in this school year. The current return to class rate is 92.7% for students whose diagnoses did not require school exclusion as per Howard County Public School System policy. The telemedicine program has been very popular with parents who report the program being “very helpful to busy families” and saving them from missing work and their children being absent from school.  Satisfaction surveys from parents report high rates of satisfaction and willingness to re-use the program.

The School Based Health Alliance reports 7.3% of all school-based health centers completing the 2013-2014 national survey use telemedicine and the number is growing. The list of health services that can be provided through this technology are rapidly expanding and include mental and oral health. Telemedicine visits are reimbursed by Medical Assistance in Maryland and many private health insurers.

Thank you to Sharon Hobson,  School Based Wellness Center Administrator and Telemedicine Program Coordinator, Howard County Health Department for contributing to this post 
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