Melissa Jimenez’s office is a small exam room down a high school hallway in Houston, Texas. She’s in the business of giving students–and especially their parents–peace of mind. She helps facilitate quality and timely telemedicine.
Melissa, a CHRISTUS certified medical assistant, is based out of Cristo Rey Jesuit. The Catholic school is in an economically challenged part of the city where low income families aren’t always afforded paid sick leave, and taking off from work means being financially penalized and not an option when life is about living from one pay day to the next.
A student who comes to see Melissa typically arrives with a fever, a cough and/or a sore throat. She’ll take a strep culture or a flu test and have the doctor examine the student. But the doctor doesn’t ever set foot in the exam room. Instead, Melissa logs on to a secure server. Then with a click of her mouse, physician Nancy Kwan, DO appears on the monitor.
Dr. Kwan goes over the symptoms with Melissa and the student. Melissa can then fasten an electronic endoscope to the student’s ear. An image of the eardrum pops up on the screen. The otoscope interface lens looks a lot like a camera and acts as the doctor’s eyes.
Next, a digital blue tooth-enabled stethoscope is used so the doctor can listen to the heart and lungs, and then, if need be, the doctor phones in an appropriate prescription. Melissa thanks the doctor and then calls the student’s parent.
Melissa’s school is part of a telemedicine program designed by CHRISTUS Health. Telemedicine is one of the many growing uses of information technology and an increasingly popular way to offer care.
“Our interactive telemedicine program provides a real-time provider visit using state of the art medical technology tools to diagnose common pediatric ailments,” explains Dr. Luke Webster, Vice President and Chief Medical Information Officer at CHRISTUS Health. “All clinical information is recorded during this televisit in an electronic medical record that can be shared with other members of the child’s health team.”
Because of the use of telemedicine technology that brings the doctor’s office to a school, students are able to be seen right away in a familiar environment, rather than at a hospital emergency room.
“We have shown that we can reduce student absenteeism, provide non-urgent care in a more familiar less stressful environment and decrease costs for both the families and health system,” said Dr. Webster.
Just a year ago the program was launched, but it was five years in the making. CHRISTUS Foundation for HealthCare realized there was a need and wanted to fulfill it.
“Our ministries reach out and confront the needs of the disadvantaged. We started with four school based clinics and now provide for 17 schools where we work to help children stay healthy in school and at home,” says Les Cave, President of the CHRISTUS Foundation for HealthCare. “There are large pockets of low income Houston neighborhoods and these inner city Catholic Schools can’t realistically afford an onsite full-time registered nurse in the school office. Thanks to many generous donors we’re able to make it happen.”
CHRISTUS Medical Assistant Ashley Montalvo divides her time between two school based clinics, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Houston and Our Lady of Fatima in Texas City.
“We get many compliments for this service,” says Montalvo as she demonstrates how telemedicine works at The Point of Light Clinic in Dickinson, Texas. “We are so happy to be able to let a child see a doctor while in school, make sure cuts don’t get infected and just generally make sure a bad situation doesn’t get worse.”