What Are School Telehealth Services, and Why Are They So Important in 2021?

Published April 16, 2021   |   

Student and teacher wellness are vital, but their vastly differing needs have often posed a challenge for schools. How do you provide services that benefit everyone without being too disruptive or displaced? School wellness programs often focus on creating environments that support students’ physical, mental, social and emotional well-being, but they’re often integrated as secondary to teaching.

This creates areas of concern for teachers and parents who want to nurture and support every facet of a child’s wellbeing. Enter school-based telehealth services, a rapidly expanding model of care that is reshaping how schools take care of their students. With immediate access to licensed doctors and therapists, telehealth for schools are providing to have long-reaching benefits across the United States.

What Are School Telehealth Services?

In the past, the school nurse and counselor were a child’s only options for health and behavioral care. If a student had a cough or headache that couldn’t be easily remedied with some first aid, they were often sent home and told to visit the doctor. But now, through the power of technology, nurse’s offices are being transformed into telehealth clinics that put students and nurses in touch with professional care right away. The impact spans much farther than treating immediate ailments or injuries; it’s also improving attendance rates and facilitating access to care for low-income or underserved students.

In some cases, schools are unable to afford paying a registered nurse to tend to their pupils. This means that assistants who are only capable of providing basic first aid care are forced to confront problems that they don’t have the knowledge or resources to resolve. The integration of telehealth services allows these professionals to hand off certain problems to a doctor or RN immediately. In serious circumstances, such as the sudden onset of a severe illness or an emergency injury, a virtual doctor can provide on-demand medical advice and coach staff on what to do until help arrives. This can be life-saving in situations where the nurse or aid on-site doesn’t understand what is happening or doesn’t know how to stabilize a student’s condition.

Giving Parents Peace of Mind

Every parent worries that their child is safe when they’re not with them. For some, this worry is compounded by the fact their child has special needs or underlying medical conditions. Although the school nurse may know how to administer an EpiPen or insulin, this still leaves parents and guardians in a tenuous position at best. They send their son or daughter off to school every morning and just hope that nothing bad happens.

By partnering with telehealth providers, schools are able to give caregivers greater peace of mind. Students’ protection, security and wellbeing are top priorities, and having instant access to high-quality medical care emphasizes this. For students who require routine care, a virtual doctor can collaborate with their pediatrician and therapists. This creates a collaborative care environment that leads to more positive outcomes in all areas of a child’s health.

Expanding Care to Behavioral Services

Many children struggle with learning disabilities and mental disorders that negatively impact their school performance. Early intervention is key to promoting positive student outcomes, but most public institutions are unable to afford expanding their behavioral support services. Oftentimes, teachers report a concern to parents who are then tasked with finding professional care on their own. For some, this isn’t an option, and the child ultimately suffers the most.

Through telehealth behavioral care, students who need routine therapy and intervention are able to receive one-on-one support from a specialized professional. Whether they are going through grief, suffering from low self-esteem or a learning disability, virtual mental health counselors are available at any time. The benefits of virtual counseling aren’t limited to K-12 schools either. Across the United States, hundreds of college campuses are adopting telehealth into their wellness model. This allows students to get immediate support from a therapist right on campus.

Promoting Equality for All

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become evident how far-reaching the impact of income is on a person’s wellness. Students who come from low-income families are often unable to receive the quality of medical care they need. Their parents may likewise be forced to put themselves in dangerous situations solely to make a living, which increases a student’s risk of exposure and infection.

Low-income children may also be at risk for other physical and mental health conditions that go unchecked. Expanding care models in schools help combat the effects of poverty on the community, giving children a greater chance to thrive and rise above their circumstances as they get older.

In this way, telehealth for schools is not just an academic benefit. It is a community resource that leads to more positive outcomes for educators, pupils and families. Research show that access to virtual medical services have increased the attendance record and decreased hospitalizations and ER visits among asthmatics and diabetics.

How Will Services Expand in the Future?

The primary focus at this point in time is increasing the number of schools and colleges that are able to integrate telemedicine into their wellness programs. The biggest challenge is budget and reimbursement, which many schools are still struggling to acquire. However, as the benefits of virtual care become more evident, it’s likely that governments will begin to prioritize expanding care in schools and increase funding opportunities. Nationwide, the adoption of these services will also lead to more career opportunities in the medical and tech fields. A student receiving care today may go on to provide it on the other side of the screen in 20 years.

For teachers, the fact that their students are able to live more healthily also means they’ll spend more time in the classroom. The better they feel, the better they learn. Every moment spent with their instructor is invaluable, especially after a year of distance learning and lockdowns that led to severe learning loss and stunted academic growth. With greater access to physical and medical health support, students will also be given more opportunity to learn and grow in the classroom. This isn’t just a temporary benefit; it’s a gift that will serve them the rest of their lives.