Inside INdiana Business

School telehealth systems helping to examine rural patients for virus

(photo courtesy of the Indiana Rural Health Association)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The Indiana Rural Schools Clinic Network is helping patients in smaller communities connect with physicians while still practicing social distancing. The organization is working with healthcare providers in several rural counties to utilize telehealth technology that had been previously installed in schools.

The network has been the driving force over the past two years to install telehealth equipment in 34 rural schools throughout the state. The technology allows doctors to evaluate ill students remotely.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Kathleen Chelminiak, the project director of the Indiana Rural Schools Clinic Network, said as the state ordered schools to close her organization realized the potential benefit of using the equipment in response to the crisis.

“We had a couple of healthcare partners reaching out, asking if it would be a possibility to move the telehealth equipment from these school buildings that were going to be closed anyways until May 1 into other remote healthcare locations so that they could potentially do telehealth visits with patients while the pandemic was going on,” said Chelminiak.

Many of the schools have temporarily relocated their telehealth technology to a healthcare clinic or other remote healthcare location in their community.

The school telehealth equipment is now being repurposed by local rural hospitals and medical professionals in the following counties: Greene, Spencer, Owen, Ripley, Daviess, Steuben, and Scott.

“As a result, hospitals are able to communicate virtually with patients and hopefully reduce the influx into emergency departments and waiting rooms and help protect healthcare providers from potential exposure to COVID-19,” Chelminiak said.

The equipment includes video and audio capabilities to allow for two-way communication between the patient and healthcare provider. The technology can also measure blood pressure and pulse. It also has a stethoscope to listen to heart and lungs and an otoscope to examine inside ears.

“Because there is a (trained person) acting as a provider’s hands, we can pretty much get almost exactly the type of information that you would get if they were face to face,” explained Chelminiak.

IRSCN is a four-year grant program funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration, a federal agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Chelminiak said the HRSA had to approve relocating the equipment.

“They reached back out to us and said it would be a really great use of funds and existing equipment if our healthcare providers were able to use it In the capacity for seeing patients remotely whether they had the actual symptoms of COVID-19 or not.”

IRSCN administers the telehealth program for the Indiana Rural Health Association. Chelminiak says the IRHA is prepared to install the equipment in several additional Indiana schools but is waiting until schools reopen.

Kathleen Chelminiak, project director of the Indiana Rural Schools Clinic Network, told Inside INdiana Business the goal is clear: patient-physician separation.