Northside Hospital Duluth’s Concussion Institute.

Specialists from Northside Hospital Duluth’s Concussion Institute will begin working in rural GA schools — virtually. The Institute recently signed a contract to be a telemedicine partner with Ware County Schools.

The partnership is the first of its kind in the state — Northside Hospital Duluth will be the first to offer school-based concussion services via telemedicine, and it is set up for success, as the Ware County School System has been a recognized telemedicine provider for the past fifteen years.

“Telemedicine, in general, is not something brand new, but the concussion aspect of it is something that’s brand new. We can’t find anyone else that’s doing similar school-based concussion care via telemedicine in this state, and we’re not certain if anyone around the country is doing school-based concussion care via telemedicine, either,” said Kristin Crea, Director of the Sports Medicine Program and Concussion Institute at Northside Hospital Duluth.

Through the new partnership, Northside Hospital Duluth health professionals will provide much-needed sports medicine and concussion injury services for up to 6,000 high school athletes in Ware County Schools. To satisfy state requirements, Northside will also work with educators to offer “Return to Play” and “Return to Learn” protocol so athletes can resume their usual academic and extracurricular routines without exacerbating conditions.

“This [protocol] to manage [recovering athletes] academically is huge!” said Maria Chininis, Education Coordinator for the Concussion Institute. “All the things that we know from taking care of concussion injuries can be so helpful to educators and parents.”

Through a new partnership, Northside Hospital Duluth health professionals will provide Through a new partnership, Northside Hospital Duluth health professionals will provide Their Return to Play and Return to Learn programs are part of a package deal signed with Ware County Schools, and it appears a win-win situation. For Concussion Institute specialists, it’s a sign of legitimacy to work with Ware County, which has long been considered a leader in telemedicine, working to reduce healthcare coverage gap in rural areas. Meanwhile, specialists at the Concussion Institute will aid athletic staff, directors, and nurses in Ware County Schools’ clinics in treating injured students.

Students will receive same-day or next-day contact with appropriate specialists through virtual appointments conducted through in the schools' clinics through the Global Partnership for Telehealth's web-based telehealth platform, Pathways.

The deal coincides with the state Senate initiative to modernize telemedicine laws. SB118, the “TeleHealth Bill,” mandates that all insurance providers pay equity for healthcare providers using telemedicine. The bill goes into effect January 1, 2020, and will require insurances to cover telemedicine appointments costs just as with face-to-face treatment.

“The proximity and the underserved are truly where we are focusing,” Chininis said. “Those in rural areas are easily one to three or four hours from specialty care. Many have gone to emergency rooms, where historically they are triaged. This access eliminates that barrier to care.”

Northside accepts all forms of insurance for telemedicine appointments and is extending self-pay rates and financial assistance to ensure its remote care is both affordable and accessible.To learn more about Northside’s Concussion Institute or to view other services and locations, visit https://www.gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/sports-medicine/concussion-institute/concussion-institute.