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Using telehealth to support student wellness, academic achievement

Renee Kotsopoulos
March 25, 2021

At Garland Independent School District, the mission of our health services department is to serve the diverse needs of our multicultural community. We advance this mission by empowering children and parents with the knowledge necessary to promote wellness and maintain healthy lifestyles, thereby, preparing students for a successful academic and life experience.

With roughly 65% of Garland ISD’s student population classified as economically disadvantaged, our district must think outside of the box to provide support. To promote success for every student, we pair telehealth services with data-driven decision-making. 

Here’s an inside look at how our department uses telehealth services to support our health initiatives and student community.

Ensuring access for all students

Garland ISD provides in-school telehealth services through Hazel Health so that students can receive immediate care -- regardless of financial situation or immigration status.

A common misconception is that if you give someone insurance, they have access to medical care. The truth is a little bit more complicated than that. If someone doesn’t have a car to get to a doctor’s office, or they work at a job that doesn’t allow flexibility for taking time off, seeking care can be a huge challenge.

Telehealth in action: Not every parent or guardian is able to pick up their child from school if they aren’t feeling well or take them to a doctor’s appointment during the day. Not every family has health insurance or easy access to a healthcare facility. Our district strives to do what we can to support the needs of every family. Providing telehealth in school eliminates barriers and challenges and ensures that students can receive care.

Creating district-wide programs

Without access to the right resources, managing conditions such as asthma, diabetes and allergies for students across a district can be incredibly difficult.

Data-driven decision-making isn’t siloed to curriculum and assessments. Our department analyzes telehealth visit and absence data to identify trends and inform the support we provide.

Telehealth in action: When we saw an increase in our asthmatic absence rate, we created an asthma management program to support students with asthma in school. Telehealth data helped us realize the need for this program and gain buy-in from district administrators.

Allergies are a health issue that we must take seriously. It is the policy of our school district to make the safety and well-being of students our top priority -- parents play a vital role in providing the information necessary to make this happen. Our nurses create an Individualized Health Care Plan for each student, which includes specifics about each student’s reactions, treatment options, and environmental controls.

In a perfect world, every parent and guardian would be responsive to our recommendations. But, bringing in a telehealth provider for additional support can increase effectiveness.

Telehealth in action: A student who suffered from allergies often had a sinus infection because their allergies weren’t being managed. The student met with a telehealth provider from Hazel Health who reaffirmed our school nurse’s recommendation that they begin taking Zyrtec consistently, every day. Now, the student’s attendance rate has improved which allows the student to focus on class and sinus infections aren’t an issue because their allergies are under control.

Diabetes is a lifelong condition requiring monitoring and assessment in all areas of an individual's life, including exercise, nutrition, and illness. Students with diabetes need the support of caring adults to guide them in their disease management to maintain wellness and prevent or delay complications. Garland ISD works with programs like Project Power to support children and families dealing with diabetes.

Telehealth in action: The COVID-19 pandemic helped many people realize the convenience of telehealth for managing chronic conditions, including diabetes. Being able to connect with a provider without having to schedule and attend an in-person appointment at a clinic has been especially valuable for our students, with diabetes, who receive nutrition counseling and resources during these visits.

Maintaining continuity of learning

Telehealth helps us address common health issues to ensure continuity of learning. When students are able to receive the care they need, they’re more likely to be in school and learning.

Telehealth in action: Telehealth providers can quickly diagnose an illness, like suspected pink eye that is actually a simple allergy, and assess whether students can return to class or not. And, since school staff typically aren’t allowed to provide over-the-counter medication (or prescriptions), telehealth providers are able to quickly treat common issues, such as headaches and stomachaches, while a student is at school.

Telehealth providers complement the work of our internal departments and are an additional resource for staff and students alike. This support helps us get down to the root of what’s going on in a student’s life and solve problems as needed.

Serving the unique needs of our community

At Garland ISD, we never make assumptions about what we think our district community needs. Instead, we provide regular surveys to parents to gain a realistic view of what students and their families feel is working, what could be improved, and what resources they’d like to see us provide. We use the survey results to inform the programs and services our district provides.

Telehealth in action: Telehealth visits can reveal non-medical barriers to learning, like students who stay home from school because they need to care for a sick younger sibling. With the support of our school nurses, counselors and Hazel Health medical providers, our district can better address these instances, and provide individualized support to students.

Telehealth is a valuable addition to our existing student health initiatives, which include:

  • Family and Community Engagement (FACE): Family and community engagement significantly contributes to a child’s academic, social, and emotional growth. Our district’s  FACE department is committed to offering family and community engagement services that foster effective family and community partnerships that support student achievement and school improvement.
     
  • Coordinated School Health: The goal of a coordinated school health program is to improve each student's physical, social, emotional and educational development by integrating health education, physical education and activity, nutrition services and parental involvement. Garland ISD partners with CATCH to support our coordinated school health program. 
     
  • Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC): SHAC is made up of parents, district staff and community members appointed by the district to provide advice to the district on coordinated school health programming and its impact on student health and learning.  This group supports our district in ensuring that local community values are reflected in health education instruction.

Telehealth in action: Our telehealth services aren’t limited to the school nurse’s office. Students and their families can access Hazel Health from home as well. Providing this service helps us build trust and strengthen relationships within our community and supports our mission of promoting wellness for every family.

Supporting the whole child

A robust, district-wide health initiative is important for removing barriers to learning and promoting student success. Whether instruction is in-person, virtual, or hybrid, our students spend the bulk of their day in school. The very least we can do is leverage the tools and resources available to us to make that time productive.

Supporting the physical, social and emotional health of students is fundamental to a whole child mindset. I urge any district health professional, administrator or teacher reading this to consider including telehealth as a service for your students and families -- the impact can change the trajectory of student learning.

Renee Kotsopoulos R.N., MHSM is the director of Health Services at Garland Independent School District. The district uses Hazel Health for its telehealth services.

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