Technology helps school nurses treat sick students

Technology is helping Kentucky school nurses evaluate sick students with the aid of doctors who are miles away. “Telemedicine” allows doctors to see patients using video cameras, scopes, television monitors, and telephone lines.

The technology is in use at three Harrodsburg, Ky., schools, including Evan Harlow Elementary.

In a recent demonstration, school nurse Teresa McIlvoy shone a lighted scope into the mouth of Eli Edwards, a slightly feverish second-grader. Images from the scope can be transmitted via telephone lines to a Harrodsburg pediatrician’s office, where doctors see real-time images of ears, throats and skin.

“We’re trying to screen people and say, ‘This looks like a contagious rash. You better have them call their mom and have them go on to their physician,'” said Dr. Pamela Johnson, a Harrodsburg pediatrician.

McIlvoy said having the expertise of a doctor available helps her decide who should be sent home from school.

“Kids with strep throat can have that for days and not even run a fever,” McIlvoy said. “So if they’re having symptoms, I can let the doctor see the things we’re seeing.”

McIlvoy also has video access to a University of Kentucky psychiatrist who can advise her on a child’s behavioral problems.

“It avoids the ‘white-coat syndrome’ where a child is intimidated when a psychiatrist sits next to them,” said Dr. Earl Motzer, chief executive officer for the James B. Haggin Memorial Hospital in Harrodsburg. “But on TV it’s kind of like a game.”

The technology also is being used elsewhere in the state. Since May 1998, St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead has had a hub that connects three schools in Lewis, Carter, and Menifee counties to primary-care centers in eastern Kentucky. Two more schools in Bath and Elliott counties soon will come online.

“It’s a way to connect rural areas where you can’t hire physicians,” said Rick Phillips, coordinator for St. Claire’s network.

Kentucky TeleCare recently announced that two Lexington schools and another in Richmond also have been linked, said TeleCare Director Rob Sprang.

Parents must consent before their child can be screened.

Health officials say the technology can reach rural and inner-city children who might not see a doctor as often as they should.

“The school nurse is about the only health care some of these kids will get,” Sprang said.

University of Kentucky Medical Center’s Telemedicine Inventory home page

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