Visits to the school nurse are going high-tech in Long County.
Children whose parents opt in will be able to access a doctor via telemedicine — a computer screen that allows a physician to see a patient from anywhere in the world with a high-speed Internet connection.
This is all thanks to a $90,000 grant the Long County School System received giving it access to the nonprofit Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, according to Les Evans, lead liaison with the partnership.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters said the grant covers the first two years of monthly fees. He said that based on a conversation he had with Loren Nix, the partnership’s chief operating officer, Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton has agreed to pay the district’s $750 monthly fees if Long uses some of that hospital’s physicians.
Evans told the Board of Education Monday about how telemedicine will work. While the partnership does encourage collaboration with local physicians, if that is an option, it also provides access to pediatricians at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
All of the Long County schools will have laptops with webcams and video software, with equipment that allows a physician to remotely look at a patient’s ear, nose and throat and listen to the heart, Evans said.
Waters said in an interview Thursday that he hopes the system will be running sometime this fall.
Evans acknowledged that school nurses’ workload will increase with telemedicine because they assist during online consultations.
Most consults take 15 minutes. Evans mentioned that an autism specialist is available to help children who are on the autism spectrum. The first consult of this type is typically 45 minutes, he said.
Telemedicine will decrease absenteeism and visits to emergency rooms by students, Evans said. He cited Berrien County. The year before two schools started using telemedicine, 41 visits were made to the local ER, there were one or two visits the next year, Evans said.
"I don’t want you to think it’s going to be overwhelming, like you’re going to see like 30 students a day," he said. "Waresboro (Elementary) in Ware County did more consults than any school in the state last year, and I think she did 100 and something for the school year, and that’s faculty as well."
If a student does need to see a doctor, the physician can work the student in just as a walk-in patient at a doctor’s office. The physician might be able to see the child right then or ask for the student to be brought back in at a certain time, Evans said.
He added that physicians will bill parents’ insurance. Parents opting into the service provide insurance information. And some physicians will not charge if they see only a couple of patients a month. Evans cited Appling County as an example.
Board member Florence Baggs, who is a nurse practitioner, said telemedicine can also benefit students who have mental-health needs.
Evans demonstrated the technology, connecting with Sam Stephenson, senior liaison with the partnership.
Stephenson demonstrated the magnification of the equipment, zooming the camera in on a cut on his arm that looked like a canyon in the desert. The hairs on his arms looked like thick carpet fibers.
Baggs listened to Stephenson’s heartbeat through a Bluetooth stethoscope paired with a stethoscope in Athens.
"Oh, this is great," Baggs said. "I’d like to have all of this."
Evans said the Georgia Partnership, which is part of the Global Partnership for Telehealth, has 86 schools in 25 Georgia counties, not including Long County.
In other business Monday:
• Jeffrey Mitchell, the CEO of the Long County Community Center 4 Kids, talked about a mentor program he is trying to start. He asked the board for a letter of support to allow his group to use the gym, four classrooms and the cafeteria at Walker Elementary School once the district is ready to use the gym at the under-construction school.
• Waters showed construction photos of the new grade three-through-eight school. Ground was broken in May, and the school is expected to be complete by next summer.
• The board approved advertising the five-year historical tax digest for 14 days, as required by law.
• The board approved a called meeting at 9 a.m. Aug. 18 to approve the tax digest.
• The board approved the consent agenda, which was the hiring of 13 full-time teachers, two part-time teachers, six paraprofessionals, two bus drivers, a custodian and a temporary bookkeeper, as well as appointing Amy Howard to a three-year term on the Three Rivers Regional Library System board.