- The nation’s second largest school district is launching an innovative telehealth program this fall, and it won’t cost the district a penny.
In what could be a model for other cash-strapped school systems, the Los Angeles Unified School District is placing telemedicine carts in five schools in a deal with Florida-based LifeMD. The fully-equipped carts, which include videoconferencing capabilities and integration with EHR platforms and cost anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000, will enable students with minor health concerns to meet with a pediatrician within minutes.
LifeMD sealed the deal with LAUSD by picking up the tab for the technology.
The company said it would bill the insurer or health plan for each student visit, and cover the costs for uninsured students. It’s a bold move in a school district where as many as 20 percent of the students don’t have health insurance – though also in a state where payers have been reimbursing for telehealth visits for roughly two decades.
“There’s incredible interest in schools” for telehealth, says company spokesman Tim Bruce, “but they often have their budgets mapped out years in advance. … This gives them the chance to focus on what is important.”
“Traditionally, students would have to be picked up by parents and taken to a doctor, urgent care center or even the ER,” officials pointed out in a recent press release announcing the partnership. “Now, students will have the ability to be seen by a pediatrician within minutes, allowing parents to stay at work and the student with minor treatable conditions to return to class without losing valuable instructional time.”
Bruce said the company spent long hours talking to health plans and pediatricians in and around Los Angeles to make sure the platform would appeal to them. He noted the patient session is recorded for the medical record, and that parents can participate in the session or listen to the recording at a later date.
With pediatricians and school officials, the company emphasized that the telehealth platform helps the school nurse, rather than replacing him/her, and ensures that follow-up care is passed on to the child’s primary care provider.
With studies tying tardiness and absenteeism to declining grades, school districts across the country are looking for ways to improve students’ health and wellness while keeping them in the classroom. In some instances, they’re piggybacking a student platform on one created for teachers and staff [and included in their benefits package]. In others, they’re partnering with local health systems and taking advantage of state and federal grants.
Bruce says LifeMD has been building its business base with health systems, urgent care centers and even prison systems. The LAUSD project is the company’s first school program, and stands to double the company’s revenues for 2016. It will also boost the company’s visibility in a market dominated by the likes of American Well and Teladoc but also populated by dozens of niche platforms.
The key to the pilot’s long-term success depends on how the five telemedicine carts are used this year. If the school district sees measurable success, and LifeMD is able to realize an ROI, they’ll expand the program to more of the district’s 900 schools and 187 public charter schools, serving more than 640,000 students.
“School-based programs typically have amazing results,” Bruce says. “For them, the setting really does matter.”