How school systems can enhance healthcare for children through telehealth programs

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With the implementation of telemedicine, school children can benefit in a myriad of ways all you need to know from the expert Vikram Thaploo, CEO, TeleHealth, Apollo Hospitals Group, India.

In the era of technology, telehealth services have brought a transformative change in the way healthcare is accessed without compromising on care quality and outcomes. In a country like ours, where the population is booming, timely access to healthcare is a critical priority for school children, especially in rural areas to improve their health status and reduce the incidences of mortality. Telehealth services can not only bridge the gap in healthcare access but also help to evade the consequences of poor health on the education of a child.

The need for school-based telehealth services
According to a study published in ‘The Lancet’, a survey across 10 Indian cities revealed that children suffer from a lack of immunity that results in an absence from schools. The survey conducted by IMRB research agency which involved 1500 mothers who had children in the age group of 6-14 years, also revealed that nearly 30% of mothers take their children to a doctor every month because of some nagging illness. For a country with the second-largest school system in the world, the figures can be more alarming if the money spent on physical travel to the doctor and lost hours of education are also taken into consideration. Even more concerning is the fact that a majority of the population of India resides in rural areas where access to healthcare is limited.

In rural areas, insufficient transport resources, provider shortage and economic hardship everything contributes to untreated health conditions that can have a significant impact on academics. Not to forget socio-cultural preferences where discrimination against girls result in fewer visits to healthcare clinics when they require it.

Technology can be the best answer to these concerns where a video link between a doctor and a school can help address everyday health issues and improve academic outcomes. School-based telehealth can turn out to be an effective method to enhance healthcare quality and accessibility to care which includes chronic disease management, primary care, mental and behavioral health, nutritional counseling, dental screenings, speech therapy and health education.

How telehealth services in schools can make a difference
In the United States, thousands of schools have become SBHCs (school-based health centres) providing integrated medical services that include nurses, paediatricians, counsellors and various medical practitioners. Be it emergency assistance or long-term management advise, telehealth services can help children get the required service without the need to travel or spend extra money.

With the implementation of telemedicine, school children can benefit in a myriad of ways such as:
Immediate medical advice and treatment in case of sickness and emergency injuries
Timely treatment and prevention tips can minimize the contagion factor
Improved care coordination with primary care providers
Those who lack the resources to quality healthcare can get access to specialty healthcare services
Children suffering from critical conditions that require physical attention can be moved to secondary care hospitals while less severe cases can be treated through a virtual consultation. This will also reduce the burden on district hospitals
Parents’ expenses can be minimized
Children are more likely to perform better academically because of good health
Though school-based telehealth programs can be the key to manage the rising concern of health issues among children, the school staff may lack the resources and time to manage care coordination effectively. Therefore, they may seek the help of relevant health providers in the community. Another important consideration should be the investments in health information technology infrastructure that would result in the seamless transmission of patient information.

Conclusion
Telehealth can act as an essential tool to expand and complement the capacity of schools by meeting the healthcare needs of children through the use of technology. Unlike other school-based health initiatives, telehealth programs in schools do not aim to replace local providers instead, complement the quality of care. With adequate financial support, technological advances and a consistent approach to implementation, telehealth can change healthcare in educational institutions.


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