Atrium program allows Stanly students to see doctor without leaving school

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, August 31, 2022

In order to provide real-time care for students and staff and help avoid any unnecessary disruptions, Atrium Health is expanding its virtual healthcare program to several schools within Stanly County this year.

Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital is providing virtual healthcare to students at Albemarle High, Stanly STEM Early College, Albemarle Middle, Central Elementary and East Albemarle Elementary as part of its School-Based Virtual Care program, which was created in 2017 and operates across seven counties.

“We have a very high need in the Albemarle schools for kids’ physical health to be addressed,” SCS director of student services Beverly Pennington said.

The nurses within the Albemarle school district have been involved in several trainings and meetings about the virtual program and principals have been briefed. Information tables were set up at open house events at the schools and nurses are working to communicate the program to staff within the schools, Pennington said, noting the program should be fully functional  after Labor Day.

“Right now we’re really trying to get the word out,” Pennington said.

Students who are not feeling well can go to the school nurse, who conducts an initial evaluation to see if the School-Based Virtual Care services are needed. The nurse then contacts the parent to receive consent for treatment, and can connect with an Atrium doctor virtually.

A mobile medical professional, also known as a telepresenter, is deployed to the school to activate a device allowing a Levine Children’s pediatrician to see images of the student’s eyes, inside their mouth and ears and listen to their heart and lungs.

After the virtual visit, which lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, a care plan is established which can include sending a prescription to a pharmacy. If the student is deemed non-contagious by the clinician, they can be sent back to the classroom.

Commercially insured patients are responsible for the cost of services, similar to visiting a primary care physician. For uninsured families, financial assistance can be available.

Dr. Trey Williams joins virtually to help care for and diagnose a student at West Elementary School in Kings Mountain. Photo courtesy of Jerrika Swartz.

When it comes to minor, non-contagious illnesses, which in the past may have forced students to miss instructional time to go see a doctor, “this program…is clutch,” said Jerrika Swartz, clinical communications senior specialist at Atrium.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was seeing an average of one patient per day per school, but the volume has since increased, with Atrium pediatricians now seeing about three students on average daily for medical visits. There have been more than 5,400 virtual medical visits since the program began.  

The feedback has been positive in the school districts where the program has been deployed, said Dr. Trey Williams, medical director of Atrium Health Levine Children’s School-Based Virtual Care, noting many families “report a lot of satisfaction with our program because it helps keep parents at work.”

The program has also helped keep teachers in school, Williams said, saving districts from having to pay for substitute teachers.

“School-based virtual care is designed to keep kids where they need to be and to do that we really need to be able to offer medical services within the schools themselves, which is what our program allows,” Williams said. 

The plan is for the program to be phased into the other district schools next year. 

“To have this resource in our schools provides a stronger continuum of healthcare for our kids,” Pennington said. “The impact is going to be huge and we are really excited about getting this started and seeing those benefits right away.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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