The doctor is only a click away at these Sacramento schools. Not everyone is happy.
Fifth-grader Fred Amey was upbeat when he arrived at an Ethel I. Baker Elementary School office for his appointment with the doctor.
Social worker Erin Ryan ushered him into a nearby room and took his vitals – blood pressure, blood oxygen level, temperature and weight – and recorded the stats on an iPad aimed at an empty chair.
What happened next could soon spread district-wide: As Fred, 11, sat in the chair, the face of a Hippo MD doctor appeared on the iPad.
Hippo MD, named after the Hippocratic Oath for doctors, began testing telemedicine in early 2016 at John H. Still Elementary in the Meadowview area of south Sacramento. The company now serves about 3,000 students at five elementary schools, and both the district and the San Francisco-based company are working on a plan to expand the service across the Sacramento City Unified School District starting this fall.
It marks the first use of telemedicine among large school districts in Sacramento County. The idea, according to proponents, is to reduce chronic absenteeism among students in low-income neighborhoods who lack ready access to medical care.
Amaya Weiss, an executive community director for Sacramento City Unified, said the service means a student “can be linked to a doctor immediately, doesn’t have to work out transportation, doesn’t have to wait for an appointment, but rather is able to be seen and then is able to be sent back to class.”
The approach, however, has drawn the ire of school nurses. In March, all but one of the district’s 27 nurses signed a three-page protest itemizing their objections to the expansion and the use of non-medical personnel to assist with doctor visits.
The nurses complained the district had violated its labor contract by using district resources to advance the interests of a for-profit company. They also objected to using teachers as “sales people,” referring to $500 bonuses that John Still teachers received toward classroom supplies if they got consent for nearly all students to use Hippo MD. It is headed to arbitration.