Students attending Lincoln Middle School in Fort Collins can now receive accessible, integrated care from healthcare professionals right on school grounds, with the help of virtual care technology.

Since February 2019, the Health and Wellness Center at Centennial High School, a School-Based Health Center operated in partnership with Every Child Pediatrics, has been using innovative HIPAA compliant virtual care audio and visual technology to provide health care services to a new population of high needs students at Lincoln Middle School.

The virtual care services are provided outside of Lincoln Middle School in the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, where students can be seen in two confidential exam rooms and an education area.

“We are very excited about the potential for telehealth as a tool to provide convenient and high-quality care to more youth,” said Merry Hummell, the Director of the Health and Wellness Center at Centennial High School and Virtual Care Services at Lincoln Middle School.

Telemedicine services as defined by the State of Colorado Department of Health Care Finance and Policy are not a unique service, but rather a different delivery methodology. Each appointment functions just like a traditional pediatric visit, with an emphasis on real-time interaction between the patient and a licensed medical and/or behavioral health professional.

Inside the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile at Lincoln Middle School, the patient interacts in-person with a Health and Wellness Center staff member who serves as the Telehealth Presenter. Using the HIPAA-compliant audio and video telehealth cart, the student-patient and Presenter are connected to Thia Mulliken, a Physician Assistant, for medical services and/or Maura Rickart, LCSW, for behavioral health care.

During telehealth medical appointments, a medical provider is able to see, hear and engage with the patient using an interactive cart and modified medical instruments such as a stethoscope and otoscope. These tools provide a face-to-face experience, allowing the provider to see the complete picture of the patient and their well-being. Telehealth mental health visits also include connecting with patients to provide counseling services including mental health needs assessments and therapeutic counseling sessions.

Each telehealth visit caters to the patient’s individual needs and appointments cover a wide variety of services, including prevention services such as well-child exams, treatment of acute medical issues, management of chronic health conditions, counseling for mental health issues and additional services that provide a personalized and comprehensive approach to care.

The Health and Wellness Center also develops health education and awareness campaigns to emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle and collaborates with other providers in the community to offer essential resources such as immunizations and dental screenings. This pilot project was made possible with generous grants from The Colorado Health Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“It took us a lot of work to get things set up, but we are really starting to see our efforts pay off as more students and families are signing up for these services, ” Hummell said.

While telehealth reflects an important resource for the Lincoln Middle School community, it also embraces the future of health care and an opportunity to continue serving those across Colorado. The Health and Wellness Center is just starting to explore opportunities for the use of portable telehealth kits, imagining the possibilities of working with district health staff to “present” patients.

“If we could pilot a program to work with the school health staff and train them to present for the Physician Assistant, they could take a portable telehealth kit to the school they are scheduled for on that day and be able to ‘present’ student health needs to the PA,” explained Hummell. “It reinforces the important work that school health staff already do, and for kids that need medical services, it means they get the care they need and they don’t have to leave school for an extended period of time. Plus the parents don’t have to leave work, because they can download an app and be in the visit.”

The telehealth equipment can be utilized for urgent health concerns as well as regular checkups and well-child visits while allowing families to stay at work and students to remain in school. With this new approach to comprehensive and accessible care, The Health and Wellness Center and Every Child Pediatrics are excited about the future of telehealth and the possibilities that it holds for ensuring all children are healthy enough to learn and reach their full potential.