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Mobile Healthcare Goes to College

From dorm-call services offered by small startups to telehealth platforms linking remote campuses, colleges and universities are giving mHealth a passing grade. And the students are liking it, too.

By Eric Wicklund

- America’s colleges and universities are taking a liking to mHealth.

In Dallas, a healthcare startup is offering mHealth-enhanced house - er, dorm – calls to local college students. At the University of Southern Mississippi, meanwhile, students at the Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach can see a doctor based at the Hattiesburg campus via video feed.

Spurred in part by the estimated 3.4 million college-aged young adults added to the nation’s health insurance roles through the Affordable Care Act, colleges and universities are looking at ways to improve healthcare access without boosting their budgets. And students are looking for easier ways to access healthcare, especially when they don’t have the time to visit a health center or contact the family doctor and can’t afford to miss classes due to illness.

In fact, the American College Health Association estimates more than half of all college students get sick at least once a year, with 22 percent dropping a class as a result. And that’s not even taking into consideration the rate of sexually transmitted diseases and behavioral health issues on campus, which could be addressed with better access to discreet healthcare services.

Launched in October and maintained by the Center for Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, USM’s platform enables the roughly 3,000 students and faculty in Long Beach to access medical care four days a week.

“When a student wants to use the telehealth, I … assess the student and type them into the charting system,” Meagan Jernigan, a nurse stationed at the Gulf Park campus, told the Clarion-Ledger. “Then we will use the telehealth connection to provide a real-time connection through the web cam between the two locations. Then our Hattiesburg physician can speak with the student to form a diagnosis.”

Steve Miller, vice president of the Gulf Park campus, said students had been limited to once-a-week healthcare – with a doctor driving down from Hattiesburg every Tuesday to provide on-site care. But with the campus growing, it became imperative to expand the service. A full-time care provider on campus would have cost $300,000 a year, he said, while the telehealth platform costs roughly $65,000.

Dallas-based Mend, meanwhile, was launched earlier this year and is now making an effort to serve local college students who don’t have time or want to visit the health center. The company operates a website and an iPhone app, through which students can schedule a visit by a medical practitioner. It’s even offering a 25 percent discount for students with a valid ID.

“Campus health centers can see upwards of 100 patients a day, even with their limited hours,” company manager Christiana Yebra told Southern Methodist University's Daily Campus. And “no one really wants to get out of bed when they’re sick, let alone go to the doctor’s office to sit in a waiting room.”

In Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton added a telemedicine clinic this past February through a partnership with the non-profit Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, becoming the first college in the state to offer such a service. And that project serves two goals – it not only gives students easy access to healthcare, but serves as a teaching laboratory for ABAC’s School of Nursing & Health Sciences.

Telehealth providers are getting in on the act as well. American Well has a partnership with Bethesda, Md.-based CampusMD to provide telehealth services to college students across the country for a monthly subscription fee; and in Utah, Salt Lake City-based TruClinic is offering its services to Utah Valley University and the University of Utah.


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