Using Telehealth to Expand Student Access to Care

school health
(Image credit: Tumisu via Pixabay)

Long before the pandemic made telehealth a part of our collective vocabulary, Renee Kotsopoulos pushed for the practice in the Garland Independent School District in Texas. 

“People always have believed that because we give people Medicaid, and we have churches out there that help with medical care, that equals access,” says Kotsopoulos, director of health services for the district. “But I can tell you firsthand, that doesn't equal access. It doesn't matter what we do, if they have to get to a site, they can't get to the site. They don't have transportation.” 

To eliminate this barrier, the district began offering telehealth services to students several years ago. In February of 2020, the district partnered with Hazel Health to provide telehealth services to three of its schools. Shortly after that, when the pandemic crisis began, Kotsopoulos requested an expansion of services to all 55,000-plus students district-wide. 

For her efforts with this program, Kotsopoulos won Best Example of Teacher & Student Well-Being Programs for this program at Tech & Learning’s Innovative Leader Awards at Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in Dallas. 

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All About Access 

By partnering with Hazel Health, Garland ISD has been able to offer expanded health care services to students. “They provide medication, they do well visits. They're not meant to take over their primary care provider, but they fill in those gaps for access,” Kotsopoulos says. 

Transportation is a major barrier to access, but it’s not the only one students in the district face. “Some of them either have Medicaid or they don't have coverage at all,” Kotsopoulos says. “Even if you have Medicaid, the doctors that are around here that accept Medicaid are extremely booked up. So it may take a week to get to the doctor.” 

Through the telehealth program, access to a provider is immediate. “Within five minutes you're in with a provider,” Kotsopoulos says. 

The program can be accessed by students at home or during the school day, and can help keep students in class. “You're in high school, you don't have your glasses and you get this random headache,” Kotsopoulos says. “If you call a parent to come to bring Tylenol to that kid, that kid's going home because momma ain’t coming back twice.” 

After a telehealth appointment, the same student can be given Tylenol at school and resume class shortly. “So no more going home for these little bitty things,” Kotsopoulos says. 

Making Health Part of Your School’s Technology Plan 

Kotsopoulos advocates for health service representatives being involved in discussions about school technology and increasing awareness for school leaders about ways in which technology can be utilized to facilitate student health. 

Using technology for health services is as important as effectively using it in the classroom, Kotsopoulos says. “If the kids aren't in school, they aren’t going learn,” she says. “The goal is using all this technology to keep the kids in school learning. We can't wait for these parents to be proactive and take these kids to the doctor. They just can't. There's a lot of people that lost their jobs, they don't have insurance, or if they get a job, they need to keep it, so they can't take off during the day.” 

While some people complain about the price of telehealth, ultimately investing in student health always pays dividends, Kotsopoulos says. “People think it costs you money, but in the long run, you end up saving money because you're keeping the kids in school.” 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.