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Blue Cross NC $750,000 grant funds expansion of school-based telehealth

Pilot program has reduced unnecessary ER visits and early dismissals among students, many who previously lacked a primary care point of contact.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has given a $750,000 grant to expand a school-based telehealth program to additional schools in Cleveland County, North Carolina.

The grant, which will be dispersed over three years, paves the way for expansion of a virtual clinic pilot that has tackled health disparities at schools with high percentages of at-risk students.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Now operating at four schools, the program has helped reduce unnecessary emergency department visits by nearly 56 percent among students and reduced early dismissals by roughly 33 percent. Twenty-one percent of students who had a telehealth encounter through the virtual clinic had no primary care provider or established medical home prior to their visit. 

Children who access care through the virtual clinic are evaluated, with parental consent, by a pediatrician located remotely at Shelby Children's Clinic. Parents may join the visit via audio, video or attend in-person. Upon completion, the diagnosis and treatment are discussed with the parent and a prescription, if needed, is sent to the preferred pharmacy.

Virtual clinic director Patricia Grinton, MD, said the three-year goal is "to expand to all elementary, intermediate and middle schools in the Cleveland County area." Atrium and Blue Cross NC aim to increase the number of telehealth visits by 100 per year, per school.

TREND

Launched in 2017 at Graham Elementary School in Shelby, North Carolina, the virtual clinic was developed through a partnership between Atrium Health Levine Children's Shelby Children's Clinic, Atrium Health's Community Health division, Cleveland County Public Health Center, and Cleveland County Schools.

Much as it has its appeal for elderly populations, telehealth in schools offers benefits for children and parents alike.

Reimbursement by the government and private plans for telehealth services has been growing.

ON THE RECORD

"The virtual clinic provides families the opportunity to seek medical care for their school-aged children more readily," Grinton said. "The students are evaluated for healthcare needs while they remain at school and their parents continue their daily activities, such as work."

Deirdre Fulton is communications professional and freelancer based in Maine.
On Twitter: @deirdrefulton

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