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Howard program aims to decrease student absences, improve performance

In the coming weeks, students at five Howard County elementary schools won't even need to leave the school building to consult with a doctor if they have a sore throat, a skin rash or an eye or ear infection.

Instead, they'll have the opportunity to talk with a University of Maryland Children's Hospital Pediatrician remotely through Howard County's new telemedicine technology unveiled Monday.

County officials expect the program to decrease absentee rates, improve students' educational performances and improve access to health care for students.

The pediatrician in Baltimore — with the help of a school health officer with the student — can examine the student via a video conference system complete with medical equipment for examining your throat and ears. A student's parent can even sit in on the examination through an app on their smartphone or via Skype. It's not required that parents sit in on the examination as long as they've given consent that their child can participate in this service.

Doctors can write an electronic prescription that will go directly to the child's pharmacy.

"With this telehealth, they [students] don't need to miss school, they don't need to wait until mom or dad can get off work to take them to a doctor and children whose families struggle to afford medical attention don't need to suffer any longer," Superintendent Renee Foose said Monday during a demonstration of the telemedicine technology at Phelps Luck Elementary School.

Phelps Luck is one of five elementary schools that will be equipped with the technology, which is a medical cart equipped with instruments that have an internal video system. Running Brook, Bryant Woods, Stevens Forest and Talbott Springs are the others.

In May, the school system named these five schools 'Model Elementary Schools,' an initative that expanded pre-kindergarten, added Spanish language programs in early grades and this telemedicine program among other services intended to boost student achievement.

Howard County unveiled the new telemedicine program Monday through a demonstration at Phelps Luck with guests such as County Executive Ken Ulman, Senator Barabara Mikulski, board of education members, county council members and county executive candidates Allan Kittleman and Courtney Watson.

Howard County is the first school system in the state to roll out a telemedicine program, according to county officials.

"As a parent, I am thrilled with this," Ulman said, crediting the county's broadband initiative with making the program a possibility.

The Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN), funded by stimulus funds, is a high-speed fiber optic network intended to bring faster online speeds to schools and the community.

Mikulski praised the initiative saying its not about the technology in schools, but about improving children's health and their performance in school.

"This example of telemedicine, I believe, is going to transform the way we think, the way we use broadband to help our public schools help our kids be learning ready," she said.

County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman said doctors can consult students on any condition from the waist up and chronic diseases, such as asthma and diabetes.

Rossman added that the telemedicine technology is a more cost-effective alternative — they cost about $20,000 per school — to traditional school based wellness centers.

These services will be available at no cost to families; plans are to bill insurance providers after an initial phase-in period, according to a county news release.

The telemedicine technology implemented by the school system is from Care Clix, a Virginia based company providing telehealth and telemedicine services worldwide.

The telemedicine demonstration can be viewed online at http://www.hcpss.org.

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