A telehealth system being designed in the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions will enable faculty members and students to assist overburdened medical professionals working in emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. The network is being implemented through a $271,850 grant from the Federal Communications Commission. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
The College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is developing a telehealth network designed to ease workloads of health care professionals in emergency rooms and urgent care clinics.
Faculty members and students will help hospitals and physicians screen people with COVID-19. The system will also enable the college's nurse practitioners to diagnose and provide treatment plans for patients with less serious conditions, such as viral infections or sinusitis, for example.
The college received a $271,850 grant from the Federal Communications Commission as part of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program. A total of $200 million is being distributed to hospitals, medical clinics and universities.
Dr. Ziad Ashkar, who is leading the UL Lafayette project, said faculty members, and students studying to become nurse practitioners, will provide services such as health screenings, create medical charts and offer referrals.
Ashkar directs the University's Louisiana Center for Health Innovation. A professor in the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, Ashkar is the Dr. J. Robert Rivet Endowed Chair and the Acadian Ambulance Service/BORSF Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Health Informatics.
"Emergency services aren't possible with telehealth, but you can gauge symptoms, make diagnoses, and offer guidance. In some cases, nurse practitioners will be able to write prescriptions," Ashkar explained.
"In more serious cases, we can work with medical partners in the community to coordinate care based on the medical information that has been gathered remotely," he added.
Dr. Deedra Harrington, coordinator of the college's BSN program and an associate professor, said once the system is in place, students will be able to gain clinical experience in telemedicine.
"Our nurse practitioner students will work with patients, and collaborate with a faculty member on treatment plans. Undergraduates will be able to assist in capacities such as gathering information or scheduling appointments," Harrington said.
Dr. Christy Lenahan, an associate professor who coordinates the college's nurse practitioner program, said telehealth has steadily gained in popularity in recent years. The pandemic, however, has made remote visits the primary way patients see physicians.
"We want our students thoroughly prepared in the case of another pandemic. Everyone hopes that won't happen. But even so, many patients and health care providers will prefer telehealth from now on, especially for chronic conditions that don't require office visits," Lenahan said.
The University is in the process of implementing the telehealth system. As part of the grant, the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions will receive devices such as tablet computers that will facilitate telehealth appointments.
It will also enable a private company to provide telecommunications, and develop a system that will house information such as medical records, and administrative, clinical, financial and insurance data.
Faculty members are also working on a system for appointment scheduling to accommodate as many patients as possible. The grant will enable the service to be free, initially.