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Enhancing Student Wellness through School-Based Telemedicine

The School Telemedicine in Arkansas (STAR) program is collecting data that supports the feasibility and success of offering access to real-time telehealth services in rural School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs).

STAR, the first effort of its kind in the state, is funded by a four-year, $1.2 million HRSA grant in partnership with the Center for Distance Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the University of Central Arkansas, and the Arkansas Department of Education. SBHCs chosen for the initial grant program include Magazine, Lamar, Jasper, and Malvern.

“STAR was originally developed based on the distinct needs of our existing SBHCs in rural Arkansas.  The targeted programs – behavioral health, obesity reduction and prevention, and oral health – were designed to enhance the clinical and educational services offered by using telehealth to provide on-the-spot care as well as distance education.” ~ Tina Pilgreen, Health Educator/Outreach

Program Model

The STAR Team identified stakeholders in the SBHCs and implemented an assessment to determine specific student needs. Results of the assessment were used to develop three components that comprise the STAR Program Model.

Programs began rolling out in 2016-17 school year in accordance with the following plan:

  • Year 1 – Behavioral Health
  • Year 2 – Obesity Reduction and Prevention – HealthyNOW
  • Year 3 – Oral Health

Year 1: Behavioral Health

While Arkansas Medicaid and other insurance plans reimburse for behavioral health services, access to mental health care providers is a challenge. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Arkansas is designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for mental health care providers.

STAR Behavioral Health, which rolled out to all four school districts during the 2016-17 school year, uses telehealth technology to provide clinical telemedicine services and medication management. Telehealth allows students to meet with a behavioral health provider during the school day, which reduces time away from the classroom and drive time to and from a provider’s office. Students can also access online learning modules that discuss topics such as bullying and healthy relationships.

“Even though we hit several roadblocks initially, we have been able to conduct around 200 consults for kids while at school, which has saved over 450 hours of seat time and 20,000 miles of drive time.  I’m very proud of the successes we’ve seen with the behavioral health component of the STAR grant.”
~ Alan Faulkner, Project Director

Year 2: Obesity Reduction and Prevention – HealthyNOW

The World Health Organization reports, “Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of premature death and disability in adulthood. Overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and develop noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.” The Trust for America’s Health currently ranks Arkansas 6th in the nation for childhood obesity.

During the 2017-18 school year, STAR rolled out the obesity reduction and prevention component, HealthyNOW, in the Magazine school district. HealthyNow used telehealth to provide clinical telemedicine services for exercise science and dietetics; online physical education course modules; weekly activity and nutrition challenges; and scheduled wellness fairs and field days.

HealthyNow opportunities were presented in tiers that included  (1) a weekly activity challenge and reward; (2) one-on-one exercise and nutrition counseling with exercise science and dietetic professionals at the University of Central Arkansas.

Data collected from October to April shows that 51% of children enrolled in the program, categorized with a BMI of greater than 85%, lowered their BMI.

HealthyNOW will roll out in the Lamar, Jasper and Malvern school districts in the 2018-19 school year.