Cox Health expanding "telemedicine" house calls to area schools

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It's yet another glimpse into the ever-changing future of health care.

Cox Health announced on Tuesday that it's expanding its "telemedicine" program to 22 area high schools, up from six when the program was originally introduced last August.

Now students can get their illness diagnosed and get treatment prescribed without ever leaving the school.

The districts covered include schools in Aurora, Ava, Cassville, Eminence, Forsyth, Marionville, Miller, Monett, Mt. Vernon, Mountain Grove, Ozark, Reeds Spring, Sparta Summersville, Vernona, Willard, and Winona.

Direct-Connect has been used by Cox Health for about four years.It's where you and your doctor meet in a video consultation over the internet to discuss non-emergency illnesses.

In the past year Cox Health started a school version called "telemedicine", which is now expanding to 22 area schools with the help of grants from the USDA and the Children's Miracle Network.

All the schools already have nurses on-duty to do the hands-on work, but this internet connection brings in a doctor or nurse practioner to furthur the care.

"The difference is the nurse can't actually treat them," explained Bridget O'Hara, the Cox Health Telehealth Services Manager. "They can't prescribe or diagnose that kid."

With the flu rampant at the moment, this type of in-house care helps keep illnesses from spreading.

"It's keeping them out of urgent care and out of where there's potentially a chance for them to get other illnesses," explained Felicia Baker, a Patient Care Navigator for Cox Health.

"Forty-three percent of them have been able to stay in school," adds O'Hara. "And we know at least the remaining other half of those kids are getting treatment faster than they previously would so they're able to get back to school quicker."

And it also offers a much-needed alternative to other forms of health care.

"Some patients don't have insurance or they just moved to an area and didn't have a primary care provider to go to right away," Baker said. "Sometimes urgent cares are a very long wait. And then there's difficulty with parents and their jobs and work schedules and everything so it's been a really nice opportunity for them to be seen here."

It is the wave of the future. And a nod to the past when doctors made house calls.

"Of course there are limits to what can be done by telemedicine," said Summer Council, a nurse at Ozarks South Elementary. "But I think this is a big part of the future. And I think we'll learn how to do more and more."

"Think about Amazon and all these other things," addes O'Hara. "All these things just come to you now. So why make one more stop."