Austin district shifts to fewer school nurses, more telemedicine


Highlights

AISD’s addition of telemedicine, used in other districts, aims to increase and quicken access to health care.

The district has 139 health care workers this year, up 19 over last year, but nine fewer nurses.

AISD for 2017-18 has budgeted for student health care services $7.1 million, up $2 million over last year.

The Austin district this year is launching virtual health care throughout its schools, though skeptics question whether the move, while it promises to be more quick and convenient, is better for kids.

The telemedicine will increase and quicken access to health care during school hours, district officials say, but it also means fewer registered nurses who help oversee the district’s youngest students.

Every elementary school is assigned a full-time health assistant, who must have served for six months in a medical clinic, doctor’s office or similar setting. Registered nurses oversee five or six campuses, up from two or three last year.

Overall, the district has 139 health care workers, 19 more than last year, but 56 registered nurses, nine fewer than last year. That means the nurses spend less time on campuses, have less direct supervision of the health assistants and less time getting to know the students.

District officials said the change offers more health care, not less, to students.

BACK TO SCHOOL TIPS: Be healthy this year

The health assistants assigned to the elementary schools now have the option to consult with the overseeing nurse, via a secure web cam. The nurse is able to view the student on a screen and ask the health assistant and student questions.

The addition of the virtual health care is more efficient than the previous method of explaining injuries or ailments to the nurse over the phone and cuts down on travel time for the overseeing nurse, district officials say.

“The quality of care will be as high as it always has across all of our schools with our nurses and our health assistants,” said Tracy Spinner, the district’s assistant director of health services. “Every school in AISD will have nurses and health assistants to provide care, either face to face or virtually, through a webcam.”

Austin joins a growing number of districts across the country, including the Dallas school district, that have embraced telemedicine on campus.

The Austin district more than 20 years ago eliminated registered nurses from every elementary campus to save money. The district has since contracted with Seton Healthcare Family to provide the nurses and health assistants for the schools. But some hours of the day weren’t staffed at the elementaries, district officials said, and a school employee designated by the principal would fill in.

“We can enhance care and provide better access and more services by using technology,” said Mark Steiger, Seton Healthcare Family director of virtual care. “Not replacing people, but by using technology to leverage the ability to collaborate … in a way that they were either constrained before by virtue of the fact they weren’t in the same place or by just using verbal communication.”

All secondary schools will continue to have a registered nurse onsite at their campuses. The district, however, is piloting digital clinics at three high schools.

In addition to being able to connect to virtual nurses, Crockett, Eastside Memorial and McCallum high schools this year also will have access to “digital clinics” for students to get consults with nurse practitioners or pediatricians. For ailments that would require a physician, the onsite nurse at the three schools can patch a student in to a virtual doctor, with parental consent. The parent also can join the conversation through a free phone app. The digital care is billed to the student’s insurance or covered by Medicaid.

The district expects to pay $7.1 million to Seton for student health services, which includes mental health services. The amount is up $2 million over last year, partly because of the virtual care additions.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Cedar Park holding public meetings about stormwater drainage proposal
Cedar Park holding public meetings about stormwater drainage proposal

Cedar Park is holding town hall meetings about a proposal to create a stormwater drainage and street repairs program. The proposal would reallocate one-fourth of the revenue from the Economic Development Sales tax to the program, a press release from the city said. If the money was reallocated, the program would receive about $1.57 million annually...
Austin police officer fired 4 months after federal indictment
Austin police officer fired 4 months after federal indictment

An Austin police officer was fired today, four months after a federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of making a false statement to a U.S. agency in the midst of his wife’s Social Security fraud case. Officer Roosevelt Granderson II was fired, not because of the charges, but because he did not attend two separate Internal Affairs...
Police: Georgetown woman lied about income to get free healthcare
Police: Georgetown woman lied about income to get free healthcare

A Georgetown woman was accused of falsely claiming she had no income when she applied for health benefits, an arrest affidavit said. Zona Nelson, 65, was charged with theft by deception, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Officials with the Williamson County and Cities Health District told the sheriff’s office they...
Defendant called 911 after injuring boyfriend, jury hears
Defendant called 911 after injuring boyfriend, jury hears

Attorneys representing both sides in a Travis County murder trial agree Stephen Sylvester died in July 2015 at the hands of his boyfriend after they fought, following a night of drinking in downtown Austin, in the apartment they shared. But prosecutors are calling Sylvester’s boyfriend, Bryan Canchola, a jealous murderer who flipped out...
Travis DA clears officers in 3 shootings, without grand jury review
Travis DA clears officers in 3 shootings, without grand jury review

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said Tuesday that she will not pursue possible charges against officers in three police shootings as part of an overhaul in how she handles such cases. Her decision to use “prosecutorial discretion” and end such investigations marks the first time in years that an Austin police officer&rsquo...
More Stories