MUSC Telehealth Expands to All Schools in Williamsburg County, Some Charleston Schools

Contact: Heather Woolwine

Aug. 18, 2016

CHARLESTON, SC – As another school year begins, it’s important that parents in Charleston and Williamsburg counties know that their children now have increased access to health care via their school nurses and the MUSC Center for Telehealth. The school-based telehealth program improves access to health care for South Carolina’s children in the school setting, and is part of the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance.

“We are now in all 11 schools in Williamsburg County, and in 12 schools in Charleston County, improving student wellness by providing children access to care where they are,” said Kathryn Cristaldi, M.D., school-based health program medical director. “The effects really involve the whole community, by helping children stay healthy and in school while parents are able to stay at work."

Nurse practitioner Kelli Garber vividly remembers her first telehealth patient from Williamsburg County—a young girl with asthma who had begun to sit out recess, fearing a bout of wheezing, and who was always sleepy in class. Further investigation revealed that the girl’s physician had moved away and her medications were running out. Once Garber prescribed the needed medications, the girl’s condition began to improve, and she now sleeps through the night and plays at recess. “You have changed her life,” the girl’s grandmother told Garber. “We didn’t know she could be this healthy.”

Many parents in both counties work minimum-wage jobs and rely on public transportation to get to and from work. Taking a sick child to the physician requires a day off work, which most parents cannot afford, and access can also be a challenge. When children are in poor health, the effects are chronic absenteeism and a higher dropout rate, continuing a cycle of poverty and poor health care.

Disrupting that cycle by empowering school nurses is the mission of the MUSC Center for Telehealth’s school-based telehealth program. “The school nurse knows all the families, the children, the needs,” Garber said. “Access to a provider through telehealth enables them to provide that next level of care. Without that access, they can recommend, but barriers may keep families from following through.”

The school-based telehealth program began four years ago as a pilot study by MUSC Children’s Hospital pediatrician James T. McElligott, M.D., now medical director for the center. During the next three years, the program plans to expand to more schools along the I-95 corridor and other sites across the state. The program places special emphasis on the care of asthma and trauma-related mental health issues, both of which have been implicated in poor graduation rates.

How does it work?
The school nurse calls a parent before the child’s telehealth appointment. The child will be seen by a pediatrician or nurse practitioner, using secure video conference equipment. If a prescription medication is needed, it will be called in to the parent’s pharmacy of choice, and a note about the visit will be sent to the child’s regular care provider. It really is that easy.

What are the advantages to parents?
The child will avoid missing school for many illnesses if treated sooner, and parents do not have to take time off of work to go to the care provider’s office. Parents can attend the visit by phone or in-person, and specially trained providers will see the child.

How do parents sign up?
All parents need to do is request and complete forms found in the school nurse’s office at a child’s school. Insurance will be billed and copays and deductibles will apply, just like in-person visits to the care provider’s office. South Carolina Medicaid does cover these services.

About MUSC Health

MUSC Health is the clinical enterprise of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) comprised of a 700-bed Medical Center, the MUSC College of Medicine and the physician’s practice plan. It serves patients across South Carolina and beyond through four hospital facilities in Charleston and more than 100 outreach sites. Among these are the Hollings Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated center and the only one of its kind in South Carolina, and a nationally recognized Children’s Hospital. The Medical University was founded in 1824 and has become a premier academic health sciences center at the forefront of the latest advances in medicine, with world-class practitioners and scientists providing groundbreaking research and technology that is often the first of its kind in the world.