/Mississippi launches telehealth, teletherapy pilot in schools as ‘a way to keep kids learning’

Mississippi launches telehealth, teletherapy pilot in schools as ‘a way to keep kids learning’

Mississippi News for Nonprofits For some children, a visit with the pediatrician may mean an hour-long trip and missed classes. Sometimes parents have to miss work, or they don’t have transportation. In the worst case, the child doesn’t make it to the appointment. The Mississippi State Medical Association and the Mississippi Department of Education have made it possible for students to access mental health professionals and physicians via telehealth from their schools. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, laid the groundwork in spring for a pilot telehealth program at a few schools with federal money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Act. Mississippi Connects is a larger program that includes telehealth and psychotherapy. This program was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It aims to give every student in public schools the technology they need to learn at home. The program includes the provision of devices, professional training for teachers, students, parents, and connectivity resources. Virtual medical and behavioral services are the final piece of this puzzle. Wright stated that everyone has come together to work out how this would look and what it would require. Wright also mentioned that she’s had meetings with the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi Chapter of American Academy of Pediatricians. She also noted that she’s met with the Mississippi Department of Health, the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, and the Mississippi Department of Health. Dr. John Gaudet of Hattiesburg, who is a pediatrician and president of Mississippi’s state chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, stated that there was a need for such a program. He said, “When you look at Mississippi’s distribution of doctors, there are plenty in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Tupelo. But you go out to rural counties and you find yourself in a health care desert.” Telehealth is a way for kids to learn, keep them engaged in school, and not have to travel 40 miles to get an appointment. A pilot program will be launched in late spring. Gaudet stated that Health-e-Schools is one model they are considering in western North Carolina. High-definition video-conferencing is used to provide students with access to a centrally located healthcare provider. The provider can treat both acute conditions such as sore throats or earaches, as well as long-term problems such as chronic disease management or sports physicals. Uninsured can also get mental and behavioral health services at a sliding-fee scale. It is not intended to break up existing doctor-patient relationships but to provide access to a provider when there is none. Teletherapy is a hugely needed service right now, Gaudet said. He described the state’s access to mental health services as “abysmal” and stated that mental health problems are on the rise. You can have a lot of anxiety if you had some during the COVID-19 epidemic. He said that if you’ve ever suffered from depression, you now have a lot. “Add to that financial stress, educational stresses …” Telehealth can also be useful for patients suffering from chronic conditions,” Gaudet said. Gaudet is a family doctor in Flowood, and the chair of the Mississippi State Medical Association Board of Trustees. Bryan said, “We can assess obesity issues and diabetes — we have children with hypertension.” “If we address these chronic conditions in rural areas, we can really improve overall health outcomes for Mississippi.” The Mississippi State Medical Association currently manages the Mississippi Telehealth Network. This network was created during the COVID-19 pandemic and is available to members of the Mississippi Medical Association to help them see patients. Bryan stated that this network will prove to be a valuable resource in the creation of the school program. Bryan stated that there is a willingness among physicians to participate in the program. The state medical board’s April loosening restrictions on telemedicine makes it easier for doctors. The cost of the program per school will range from $3,000 to $5,000 in schools that have nurse staff. The equipment will be funded with CARES Act funds and the school nurse will act as the point person at each location.