N.C. School-Based Telehealth Program Grows Into National Model

February 3, 2017

In its sixth year of providing school-based care via telehealth in four counties of North Carolina, the nonprofit Center for Rural Health Innovation’s Health-e-Schools program has grown into a national model. What started as a pilot in three rural schools in the Appalachian Mountains has grown to 33 schools in four counties.

The program’s founder and medical director, Steve North, M.D., made the transition from schoolteacher to primary care physician to telehealth program executive. Here is his story: In the 1990s North was a Teach for America corps member in rural North Carolina. He remembers seeing a student who had come to school after stepping on a nail. He couldn’t concentrate on his schoolwork, and the parents had trouble getting him to a provider because they had one car and both worked two jobs.  At about the same time he read a book by Joy Dryfoos called “Full Service Schools,” about the idea of school-based healthcare.

“It just made sense to me that we should be providing care to kids where they spend the majority of their days,” he said. Later he went to medical school at the University of North Carolina and then did a family medicine residency and an adolescent medicine fellowship at the University of Rochester, with a focus on school-based healthcare. It was there in 2005 that he met providers who were working on school-based telehealth programs, a concept he took back to rural western North Carolina.