Prince George’s Co. schools will bring doctors to kids virtually

Not every child sees a doctor on a regular basis, even when they might need it. That’s because not all parents can easily get their kids to the doctor’s office, if they even have a doctor.

But starting next month in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the school system is teaming up with a telehealth provider to bring doctors to schools virtually.

The county has reached a deal with Hazel — the nation’s largest telehealth provider for children —that offers students county-wide free access to a variety of telehealth services.

“Students can come into their school health room, and if their school health nurse or school health tech deems that there’s a condition that would benefit from speaking to a healthcare provider — including a pediatrician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant — they would press a button and access our system,” said Dr. Travis Gayles, the former health officer in Montgomery County who is now Hazel’s chief health officer.

“Our providers would come on and be able to provide a telehealth visit to that child, to identify what their needs are, obtain a history and potentially provide a diagnosis, and in some instances be able to provide a prescription to that child depending on what the need is.”

In addition, Gayles said, Hazel will be working with families to secure better access to medical care for further treatment, especially in neighborhoods where students might not even have a primary care physician, for instance.

“We see ourselves as an opportunity to bridge those gaps that children are seeing,” said Gayles.

But even beyond the immediate, clinical care being provided, Hazel will also offer “that case management, family resource management approach in terms of helping the family navigate that process of identifying a provider and figuring out the best provider to meet the needs,” he said.

“One that is close to them and is able … to be addressed and accessed without as many obstacles as possible.”

Mental health services are also being offered.

Following a referral either from a parent or the school, and once a parent consents, “we provide an initial screen and an initial visit to assess what the child’s needs are and then we link them to one of our healthcare providers to do follow-up therapy,” said Gayles.

“What we have found is the time to care, from when a child has a identified need to when they reach that service … is anywhere from six months to a year in many places, including in the state of Maryland.”

One of their goals has been to shorten that gap, and he said that’s happened in other states they operate in.

“Our access-to-care window right now … what we’re seeing across the nation in our platform … is anywhere on average from two to three weeks,” said Gayles.

In addition, he said, most of the time, a child’s mental health needs aren’t identified until they’re about 14 years old, and often when that child is in a time of crisis, whether it’s a panic attack, suicidal thoughts or behavioral problems. Gayles said Hazel tends to help identify issues when a kid is still around 12 years old.

“By having quicker access to mental health services, and mental health services readily available, we can help identify those needs at an earlier age,” said Gayles. Then they’re able to “make sure that children get access to the services that they need to prevent them from having to develop crisis-type symptoms that manifest in the ways that I described.”

The partnership between Hazel and Prince George’s County Public Schools will launch in middle schools and academies on Oct. 10, then in high schools during the week of Oct. 24. Once the program is up and running in those schools, it will roll out in the county’s elementary schools.

The mental health tele-therapy aspect is slated to roll out in late October or early November, according to the county.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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