Avera studies impact of virtual health care in schools without nurses

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 2:34 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Multiple organizations have come together to create a virtual school nursing service to help medically underserved communities.

Avera Health, JDRF, and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust announced the creation of the eCare School Health T1D Demonstration Project to address disparities in access to school health care, starting with students living with diabetes.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) recommends students have daily access to a full-time RN; yet, only 39% of schools in the U.S. employ a full-time school nurse, and just 35% employ a part-time school nurse. In some rural areas, the coverage rate is even lower. eCare School Health provides access to experienced school nurses via live audio-visual technology.

Registered nurses assist school staff in caring for students who have chronic health needs or acute health needs (head injuries, allergies, asthma, etc.). When there is a medical issue, within minutes an Avel eCare nurse is available via video to assess the situation and provide stable and continuous support to the school staff member. During the 2020-2021 school year, over 6,300 video visits were conducted serving 50 schools in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa, according to a press release from Avera.

“This project will also study whether virtual telehealth services within the school setting not only increases the likelihood of students staying in school but also whether it minimizes the need for parents to take time off from work and decreases healthcare and travel costs,” said Christine Hockett, Ph.D., Avera Director of Community Research.

Due to the lack of nursing care available in many schools, without telehealth, officials say parents are left to give directions to school staff without medical training for students with chronic conditions, such as diabetes. The three-year study will evaluate the effectiveness of the eCare School Health program on outcomes related to diabetes care and management and the quality of life of students with diabetes. The study will also assess the impact of the program on children who receive care for acute health needs.

“This service fills a significant gap by providing reliable and consistent coverage to school students, especially those with demanding chronic health care needs such as diabetes and those facing access challenges in rural and underserved communities,” says Sheila Freed, BSN, RN, NCSN, Avel eCare School Health Director. “About 25% of public schools had no coverage whatsoever. COVID-19 has likely affected these numbers and has driven the continued shortage of school nurses, making this innovative program such an important resource for schools looking for coverage.”

The eCare School Health T1D Demonstration Project will enroll approximately 100 schools and invite families of students aged 3-17 with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes to enroll in the study.

Avera is currently recruiting schools and students for the research project. For more information about the eCare School Health T1D Demonstration Project please contact Sheila Freed at 605-606-0556 or eschoolhealth@avera.org or visit, eCare School Health.

“As an organization rooted in community, JDRF is excited to partner with the Helmsley Charitable Trust and Avera to bring this amazing program to the communities that need it most,” says Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D., JDRF Chief Scientific Officer. “This partnership can improve health and quality of life for children and adolescents today, as we support development of new and transformative T1D therapies for the future for all people with type 1 diabetes.”

“Type 1 diabetes affects not only the individuals living with it day after day, but their families and support systems as well,” said Gina Agiostratidou, PhD, MBA, Program Director for the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Type 1 Diabetes Program. “JDRF and Avera are ideal partners in Helmsley’s effort to improve outcomes and increase peace of mind for students with diabetes and all who care for them.”

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