Tim is having an asthma attack at school, and plopped down in the nurse’s office, he’s got a stethoscope fixed to his chest. Miles away, in Rushford, Dr. Terry Donnal can hear his heart beat, can see him struggling for breath, can even monitor his vital signs while evaluating what to do next.
Students at Winona Middle School, Winona Senior High School, Bluffview Montessori and a host of other area organizations will have the chance to take part in a study on the potential benefits of telemedicine -- connecting patients with medical resources from miles away.
The scene is about to become a reality in Winona Area Public Schools, with a grant that is bringing telemedicine equipment to the Middle School and Senior High School, along with Bluffview Montessori and a host of other organizations. It will mean doctors and patients can have meaningful visits remotely, at Home and Community Options (HCO), it means remote monitoring at night for one group home, and residents at Saint Anne of Winona and Watkins Assisted Living will soon be able to see a specialist at the Mayo Clinic without leaving their homes.
The Southeast Minnesota Beacon Program is part of a $12.5 million grant awarded to the Mayo Clinic to study telemedicine, with the “Winona Deep Dive” component receiving a subgrant for about $3 million for its initiatives. The three-year grant brings together Mayo, along with Winona Health Services, Olmsted Medical Center, Austin Medical Center, 11 counties, schools and other organizations. And organizers say the work being done to study how healthcare costs can be reduced while improving the continuum of care through telemedicine is becoming the wave of the future.
The first phase of the project will focus on childhood asthma and adult diabetes, and families of students with asthma at the Middle School, Senior High and Bluffview Montessori have been asked to participate. When a child involved in the program has an asthma attack, Dr. Donnal can be reached with just a phone call. From there, nursing staff at the schools can flip on a new monitor, and both the patient and nurse, along with the doctor, can see one another during the remote visit. A stethoscope fitted with a bluetooth tip will mean the doctor can hear a heartbeat from miles away, and vital signs can be seen by the doctor as well.
Christa Frazier, part of the Winona Health Beacon Team, spoke to District 861 leaders Thursday night about the program. Equipment has already been installed at the schools, with staff training conducted last week, and the systems are close to being up and running.
Frazier said the program will help healthcare providers -- from doctors to school nurses to public health officials -- all have an idea about a patients needs. Part of telemedicine has little to do with seeing a doctor on a flatscreen TV, she said, and involves a movement toward connecting patient health records on a network that can be accessed across hospital boundaries. It’s about creating that infrastructure and getting healthcare organizations on the same page, able to work together and share resources to find the best outcomes for patients.
Through the grant program, there is no cost to student patients who participate, said Frazier. But following the grant period, there will be more work to be done, as this kind of medical treatment is not currently covered by Medicare, Medicaid or most insurance companies.
The stimulus grant aims to study how such telemedicine can improve outcomes and reduce treatment costs for some of the common, and expensive, medical conditions. Starting with childhood asthma and adult diabetes, Frazier said its next phase will focus on COPD and heart issues.
“We’re hoping to be forerunners,” she said.