Safer Schools: Telemedicine trend spills into schools

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Electronic communication is taking trips to the doctor to a new level, and soon telemedicine could be used in schools across the state to address students’ mental health.

Some districts already utilize the two-way, real-time, digital communication that incorporates video conferencing between doctors, teachers, parents and students.

“By and large for examination, doing diagnostic a valuation and medication management, it is really an incredible technology,” Dr. Carlos Tirado, founder and chief medical officer at CARMAhealth, said.

“If we have a good tele-health connection with an individual, it can actually create a really high fidelity meaningful encounter,” Tirado said.

In a report to the Texas Legislature, a state senate panel studying school violence and security recently included expanding telemedicine and telepsychiatry “to help children in crisis obtain access to mental health services before violence occurs,” as one of its recommendations. This followed hours of testimony, multiple hearings and a handful of roundtable meetings led by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“Having the ability for a teacher to identify a student who may be at risk, they may be able to do these telehealth discussions and start kind of delving into some of these issues, and maybe help a child early on,” State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said. Taylor chaired the Senate Select Committee on School Violence and School Security.

He said lawmakers took a particular interest in a program based out of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. The program, called the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral Project (TWITR), launched in 2014 and targets students that may be at risk of harming themselves or others. It pairs them with psychiatrists who provide individualized care.

“We already have [the] program at Texas Tech, and in my district, [University of Texas Medical Branch] is one of the pioneers of telemedicine,” Taylor explained. “There’s huge benefits of telemedicine across the health perspectives.”

“If you get to [the kids] early and get them past that, you solve a lot of the [mental health and emotional] problems that can happen,” Taylor said. “The longer it festers, the worse it can get and in fact, it leads to more and more disruptive type things, and to ultimately, violence on others.”

While Tirado touts the timeliness of telemedicine, he recognizes shortcomings that show the value of in-person care.

“There are certain individuals that may just frankly respond better to in-room interactions,” Tirado mentioned.

“There is no question that if an individual has certain physical findings that aren’t readily apparent on camera that you’ve missed those,” he continued.

“In addition, you may not be able to see some telltale signs, for instance, of [intraveinous] drug use or something like that, if you are just encountering someone through the tele-psych format,” Tirado said.

Texas Parent Teacher Association president Sheri Doss said students tend to respond well to interactions related to cellphones and other technology.

“Students are very much on their phones and into the whole virtual world, so perhaps if they can access that telemedic at any time they need, that would be another way for them to reach out for help when they need it,” Doss explained.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, recently said at an event in Austin that telemedicine, and the ability to access broadband, will eventually set a new standard.

“We are going to get used to seeing doctors virtually instead of in person,” Pai said.

Tirado said more of his patients are choosing virtual appointments, compared to the traditional in-person visits.

“Texas is a huge state, there are some regions that have no psychiatric on ground services for literally hundreds of miles, so the opportunity to be able to deliver tele-psych evaluations or tele-counseling support is fairly revolutionary,” Tirado explained.

“Getting the right care at the right time in the right dose is so critical to outcome,” he added.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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