(photo above) Students and parents had an opportunity to see a demonstration of the virtual clinic at the middle school during conferences on February 27. Pictured left to right: D.J. Kicker, Missy Anez, and Judy Kroll (on screen).

After months of discussion and planning, the vision of a virtual health clinic within the Little Falls School District became a reality on March 1. Family Medical Center, an entity of CHI St. Gabriel’s Health, and the Little Falls Community Schools joined forces to launch a virtual clinic in the middle school as a pilot program that will be implemented through the remainder of the school year.

Steve Jones, Superintendent of Little Falls School District, credits the reality of the virtual clinic to the strong collaborative relationship between the school district and CHI St. Gabriel’s Health. “We have been pleased to see a growth in the relationship between the two entities through the years,” says Jones. “The formative discussions and the collaboration between the entities is why the virtual clinic has taken form.”

District nurse, Missy Anez, who was instrumental in virtual clinic set-up, is enthusiastic about the partnership and program. “I am so excited we were able to partner and connect technology with health care to meet the needs of students and staff,” says Anez. “Initially, I looked around the state for a model to match our needs and didn’t find one, so we had to create our own.”

The virtual clinic is located in a designated room within the nurse’s office. If a child has symptoms the school nurse believes warrants a visit to a health provider, a virtual clinic appointment can be made with parental consent. Students with a number of symptoms and conditions, including sore throat, rash, pink eye, influenza, and urinary tract infections (UTI), are able to virtually visit a Family Medical Center provider through a secure computer connection. The patient and provider can see and talk to one another through the computer. Parents are also able to participate in the virtual visit. Some lab collection (influenza, mono, UTIs) to diagnose conditions can also occur at the school.

All Little Falls Community Middle School students and staff who are registered patients of Family Medical Center are eligible for a virtual visit.

Middle school nurse Amy Amelsberg is on the frontline for seeing students and arranging virtual visits. She says the feedback from parents has been positive. “So far parents have really liked it,” says Amelsberg. “They appreciate the choice and convenience of having their child seen virtually.”

“This is a true win-win for our families,” says Jones. “Students will not have to leave school to see a provider for certain conditions, and parents won’t have to leave work to transport the student. The result is less time away from school for students and less work time missed for parents.”

In addition to the benefits to students and families, Anez hopes the virtual clinic will help limit unnecessary visits to the emergency department. “If parents can’t get off of work in time to bring their child to the doctor, they sometimes end up in the emergency room with things like pink eye or a sore throat,” says Anez. “This program may result in a cost savings to families and the community.”

Family Medical Center administrator, Rhonda Buckallew, sees the potential for growth of the program. “If the pilot project is successful, we wish to increase the types of services provided virtually,” she says. “We would also like to increase the number of schools offering the services throughout our local area as well.”

Anez looks forward to the continued partnership. “We serve the health needs of many of the same students and families,” says Anez. “The virtual clinic is a way we can bridge home, school, and clinic.”

For more information about the virtual clinic, you may contact Rhonda Buckallew, Family Medical Center administrator, at 631-7200 or Amy Amelsberg, Little Falls Community Middle School nurse, at 616-4204.

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