GREENFIELD — A new teleport health clinic which enables students to be seen virtually by a primary care provider while at school is now available at the Greenfield-Central Schools.

The system enables a school nurse to check a student’s vitals and relay them to a Hancock Health provider in real time. A specialty scope called an otoscope— just like the one doctor’s use in their offices — allows a school nurse to peek into the student’s ears, eyes, nose and throat, and listen to their heartbeat and breathing, transmitting the information to an off-site healthcare provider in real time.

Greenfield-Central’s director of health services, Dawn Hanson, will travel from school to school as needed to conduct the office visits.

Parents have been given the opportunity to sign waiver forms which allow each school to offer telehealth visits when necessary, said Hanson.

The virtual health visits can save parents time and money compared to having to book a doctor’s appointment and pick up a potentially sick child at school, she said.

The new telehealth program is made possible through a partnership between Greenfield-Central schools, Hancock Health and Managed Health Services, a healthcare insurer which has instituted the program at five other school districts within the state.

“Hancock Health is proud to partner with the Greenfield Schools and MHS in providing access to care from the school setting with the help from the school nurse,” said Angie Birdwell, primary care director at Hancock Physician Network.

“We are excited to be able to meet the students where they are to provide the care they need so they can recover sooner, enabling them to return back to the classroom,” she said.

While the program just launched Thursday, Sept. 7, a ribbon cutting was held at Greenfield-Central’s administration center Aug. 30.

Officials from Greenfield-Central schools, Hancock Health and Managed Health Services celebrated the launch of the school district’s telehealth program with a ribbon cutting Aug. 30. Those pictured in back include: Dr. Harold Olin, Greenfield-Central schools superintendent; Kevin O’Toole, Managed Health Services president and CEO; and Brian Muckerheide, Vice President of Physician Practice Management for Hancock Health. Those in back include: Angie Birdwell, Primary Care Director for Hancock Physician Network; Dawn Hanson, Health Services Director for Greenfield Central schools; and Melissa Evans, Clinical Manager for Hancock Physician Network.

Elizabeth Sons, school-based service administrator for Managed Health Services, said it’s exciting to expand the program into yet another school district.

The company has initiated its telehealth program in five other school systems since 2016, in school districts in Alexandria, Elwood, Mooresville and Valparaiso, plus one school within the Indianapolis Public Schools.

MHS provides each district with a grant covering the costs of equipment and marketing, along with some money built in to offset the costs for students whose families are unable to pay for the visit.

Typically, the telehealth visits are run through a parent’s insurance, which is provided in the parental consent form.

The form also has a box uninsured parents can check if they want to connect with MHS to learn more about health coverage. The company then connects the family with a healthcare navigator to help them find suitable coverage.

“This can close those gaps by not only getting them (healthcare) coverage but also connecting them with other services like SNAP benefits and other things they might be missing out on,” Sons said.

Above all, the telehealth program was designed to streamline a sick child’s ability to be seen by a healthcare provider.

Getting a last minute doctor’s appointment can be a hassle, said Sons, as can the time spent taking off from work or arranging for childcare for other siblings at home.

“We’ve had parents be really grateful they don’t have to miss work or find a ride. Just pick up my kid and prescription and move on with all the millions of things that happen every day for parents,” she said.

Growing up in rural Lawrence County, Sons recalls how her parents would have to drive 30 minutes to pick up her up from school when she was sick.

“They’d have to pick me up, drive 30 minutes to see a provider, then back home, so it was a whole-day affair if I would get sick at school,” she recalled.

“They’d miss a whole day of work and a whole day’s pay, and with younger siblings at home you have to future out who’s going to watch them. This (telehealth program) makes it so much more convenient for everyone,” said Sons, whose own son recently started kindergarten.

Through the new telehealth program, if a Greenfield-Central student visits the school nurse, the nurse checks to see if a consent form is on file and contacts the parent to see if he or should would like their student to participate in a telehealth visit.

Hanson then shows up at the child’s school to conduct an exam, sharing her observations and otoscope readings with an offset healthcare provider through Hancock Health. She also takes a student’s temperature and blood pressure, and can test for things like strep.

“When the provider (comes on screen) I can share everything I’m observing, so they can make an assessment of the child,” said Hanson, who has been a registered nurse since 2006 and has worked for Greenfield-Central schools since 2012.

She made a site visit to an Elwood school in 2020 to learn more about the MHS telehealth program, but COVID quickly put the program on hold.

“I was excited when (Sons) came back and decided we’re ready to get this ball rolling again,” she said.

Hanson said the program can save parents time and money as well as hassle, and can also improve overall school attendance.

“If a child has pinkeye, for example, we may be able to learn from the telehealth visit that they don’t have to leave school, so the parent doesn’t have to leave work to check in with a doctor,” she said.

If a child is sick, “a parent can pick their child up at school and have a prescription ready and waiting for them on the way home,” she said Hanson, who is confidant that the new telehealth program will serve families well.

“We don’t anticipate it being used on a daily basis, but even if it’s used a few times a month and we’re saving parents a trip to urgent care or the ER after urgent care closes, we feel like it will be a success,” she said.