School & District Management

School-Based Telemedicine Can Be a Game Changer For Students With Asthma, Study Finds

By Evie Blad — January 10, 2018 2 min read
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A partnership between schools and health care providers could make a big difference for children with asthma, who don’t always take their medication properly, even after they are initially diagnosed with the disease, says a new study.

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center tried a combination of two school-based interventions for 200 young students with the respiratory illness, says the study, which was published this week in the Journal of American Medicine Pediatrics. The children took their preventative asthma medication at school, under the supervision of the school nurse to make sure they were using it properly. And, to address circumstances that may keep them from receiving preventative care and check-ups, those same students used telemedicine equipment to meet remotely with a primary care physician three times throughout the school year to assess how the medicine was working and any follow-up concerns.

The students who received the interventions had more days without asthma symptoms compared to about 200 peers in a control group—who had not been given the treatments but had instead been given recommendations for primary care and told to contact their physicians. About 7 percent of students in the experimental group required an emergency room visit or hospitalization for asthma, compared to 15 percent in the control group.

The findings come as more schools seek to partner with health-care and social-services organizations to address some of the non-academic needs that can be barriers for learning, especially for poor students. Plans by many states to hold schools accountable for high rates of student absenteeism have also motivated education leaders to explore ways to address common childhood health issues that can keep kids out of the classroom.

Asthma is the most common childhood disease in the United States, the study says, affecting about 1 in 10 children. Children in racial minority groups are more at-risk for not being diagnosed or monitored to ensure they are properly taking their medication, and that can make them more prone to problems related to asthma.

“Clinicians and researchers across the country are designing similar programs, using resources available in their communities to reach underserved children with asthma and help them get needed assessments,” Jill Halterman, chief of pediatrics at the medical center and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “But regardless of how you’re reaching them initially, those children may continue to have issues if they aren’t taking their medications regularly. The integration of telemedicine with supervised treatment through school provides one model to ensure that children receive consistent, effective asthma treatment.”

Schools around the country, particularly in rural areas, have also experimented with telemedicine for a variety of other children’s physical and mental health issues, often relying on Medicaid funding to help pay for their work.

Photo: Getty Images.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.