Pasco County school introduces telemedicine service, minimizing lost learning time

If a student gets sick in school, they're pulled from class, a parent has to leave work to take them to the doctor, and a lot of things can be disrupted. 

One Pasco County school is taking an innovative approach to getting kids the help they need fast. They're turning to telemedicine, and the equipment is expected to make a big impact, not just within the school, but in the surrounding community. 

Wednesday night, Gulfside Elementary in Holiday launched its telemedicine services, the very first within Pasco County Schools.

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"You really need to meet physical needs before you can meet academic needs," said Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning at the ribbon cutting.

The district partnered with Premier Community HealthCare, a nonprofit and a federally qualified health center. An in-person nurse will guide students through the virtual visit using the device lovingly called "Sheldon."

"The telemedicine machine can access an EKG, a stethoscope which is digital, and the provider can hear the digital breathing or heart rate on the other side," said Travis Cox, the Premier Community HealthCare director of IT.

Digital cameras can zoom in on cuts, hair, or check inside ears, allowing clinicians to assess, triage and diagnose students, and refer them for further treatment, if necessary.

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"Wherever the parent is, we can send them a link, and they'll jump on, and so they'll be part of the visit using 'Sheldon,'" said Joseph Resnick, Premier Community HealthCare CEO. "In addition to that, we have translation services. We can pull everyone together."

Students can find out if they need to go home, see another doctor, or are well enough to return to class. It gives busy families a break and minimizes lost learning time.

"We know there are families that have no transportation, difficulty with transportation, working three jobs, can't get off of a job to come and get health care," Browning said.

"The student goes back to class, so it doesn't interrupt their education, the parent doesn't have to leave work," Resnick said.

As a Community Partnership School, Gulfside not only serves students.

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"It's not just for the kids that go to this school, it's for the parents and the community to use this site," Browning said. "Introducing telehealth can actually expand our reach."

Before telehealth, Gulfside's health center "hub" already provided medical, dental and behavioral services, mentoring, a food pantry, clothing closet and much more. It's not only a place for students to learn, but to thrive mentally and physically.

"It's changing the world these kids are living in and providing a service that they need," Browning said.

These services are aimed at making healthcare accessible as well as affordable, taking into account financial hardships. This is just the beginning of telemedicine at Pasco County Schools. 

They hope to bring "Sheldon" to other schools, including Hudson High School, Paul R. Smith Middle and Anclote High School, with several more in the works.