Students in South Carolina’s public schools have spent much of 2020 attending school virtually after face-to-face instruction was limited due to Covid-19. Schools weren’t alone as they scrambled to operate in a virtual model. In the wake of the pandemic, healthcare providers also rushed to transition many services online.
“The state, our health system, everybody just put all effort towards telehealth so that we could keep people safe, at home and outside of coming into the system,” said Dr. Kerry Sease, medical director for Prisma’s Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy.
While digital healthcare exploded, certain inequities were brought to light; many families didn’t have the resources they needed to conduct a video visit with their healthcare provider. Sease reached out to the Greenville County Public School District about the option of using school-issued Chromebooks for telehealth visits.
School district officials agreed with the proposal almost immediately, according to Sease.
At that time students grades three through 12 were using the school-issued Chromebooks, according to Tim Waller, the director of communications for Greenville County Public Schools.
“Prisma saw that as an opportunity to roll out MyChart, a big telehealth service to roughly 50,000 families and it worked,” Waller said. “We were perfectly positioned for that.”
Telehealth access on the Chromebooks was opened up to anyone in the household, not just the student, Waller said.
But having a device wasn’t the only challenge; video visits only work if both the patient and the provider have high speed internet. Greenville County Public Schools was already promoting its school buildings as drive-up hot spot locations, so they decided to take that a step further. They deployed 450 school buses to serve as mobile WIFI units.
“As we used school buses to deliver meals to students in need, we also had these WIFI units on the school buses to where as they're picking up their grab and go meals, they could also connect with their Chromebook and download their lesson plans,” Waller said. “I think in the tragedy of Covid-19, a lot of opportunity has been created.”
Sease said these opportunities didn't just shift the way people think about education, they also changed the way people think about healthcare.
“I think this is an avenue that we could look at across the state and say, ‘hey, we know not everybody has a computer in their home, how could we potentially use this as a way for them to access care,’” Sease said.
According to Prisma Health, the chromebooks, and the supplemental internet access helped more patients receive care at a time when it was most needed. The school district said close to 300 students accessed MyChart through their chromebook from April to June. The access has continued into the 2020/2021 academic year.
“I think this was a really awesome way to open up access for families to be able to, to seek care in a safe way,” Sease said.