Thinking about starting a school-based telehealth (SBTH) program? Program development requires time, energy, and an investment of resources. An important first step in program development is conducting a needs and readiness assessment. These two assessments provide many benefits, including
- Laying the foundation for program development
- Defining clear objectives and shared expectations among stakeholders
- Identifying potential problems and addressing them early
- Engaging key stakeholders and gaining their support
- Improving coordination of services and rational allocation of resources
- Setting expectations for evaluating program effectiveness
- Providing critical information for developing your marketing and business plans
Start the planning process well in advance of the school year end if your goal is to create and launch a program at the start of the next school year.
Why do you want to incorporate telehealth into your school-based health care program? A needs assessment helps you understand and articulate the problem(s) you are trying to solve. Some questions to ask include:
- What are the unmet health needs of our:
- students (remember that health needs can be clinical and/or educational)?
- school staff (remember that teacher/counselor education and training is often just as important as providing direct care to students)?
- Which of these needs can telehealth address? What provider-related needs might telehealth meet?
- What is your current capacity to provide health care services and education? What is the current demand for these services? Whenever possible, use data to inform your understanding!
- Are there some needs that take priority over others? Which ones and why?
If you already have a list of needs and see that telehealth fits, determine if your school, school-based health center (SBHC), and health center are ready for telehealth. Organizational readiness is a way to assess whether your school, SBHC, and health center are willing and able to shift from the way it is currently doing business to a new telehealth way. Some questions to ask include:
- Does my school, SBHC, and health center support innovation and the use of technology?
- Are there any resources available to plan or implement this project?
- Is there any staff interested in assisting with this project? Do I have anyone I might consider a champion for this project?
- Do I have buy-in and support from the school board, school superintendent, or anyone else who would have authority over the project?
- Would students and their families have any opposition to this project?
- Does my school have the technology and connectivity bandwidth needed to sustain an SBTH program?
- Is there any funding available for this project (e.g., current budget, grants, etc.)?
Examples from the Field
Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, INC in South Carolina implemented telehealth services in 2016 when the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) approached them to determine if incorporating telehealth was of interest. They received telehealth carts provided by MUSC and the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance as a pilot. They added telehealth services in five of their SBHCs, using the school nurse as the presenter before expanding the carts to four more SBHCs in another district. The use of telehealth increases access to healthcare which is a part of their mission statement, and students can be seen even if the provider is not physically in the building. Adding telehealth also eliminates the travel time that a provider has to go to multiple schools in one day. They provide primary care, behavioral health, nutrition, and dental care through telehealth.