As a primary care provider, Monica Summerhill treats patients at the University of North Texas Health Science Center Student Health Clinic in Fort Worth.
Now, technology lets the physician assistant bridge distance so she can see patients at the University of North Texas at Dallas. Summerhill is part of a new program that allows sick students in Dallas schedule appointments and be examined by a physician assistant or a doctor in Fort Worth.
Welcome to the world of virtual medicine, where Summerhill can listen to a patient’s heartbeat and look inside a patient’s ear from an office located 40 miles west of the UNT Dallas campus.
“I think this is going to become more popular – especially as the technology improves,” Summerhill said.
The new UNT Dallas Student Health Clinic was unveiled on Feb. 14 with a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house. The clinic was a project among UNT Dallas, the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth and University of North Texas System’s facilities operations.
“This is a collective effort,” said UNT Dallas President Bob Mong during the Feb. 14 ceremony. “This is the way it should work. Our students came to us. They said, ‘We are willing to pay a fee to have on-campus health care services.’ We jumped on that. We worked with them.”
The clinic is housed in the new Student Center located at UNT Dallas, a growing university in southern Dallas with an enrollment of more than 4,000 students and overlooks downtown Dallas.
“We really needed to have a facility here so students could have their health care needs met,” said Dr. Jamaica Chapple, assistant vice president for student access and success and dean of students at UNT Dallas.
Dr. Chapple said students continually asked for help addressing their medical needs.
“We usually had to refer them out,” Dr. Chapple said, explaining that meant students had to find medical help about five or six miles away from campus. She said leaving campus meant that students couldn’t stay focused on school.
The new clinic is expected to save time and money for students. UNT Dallas students pay a $25 per semester fee for health care services. There are no out-of-pocket costs during the visits.
Dr. Michael Williams, president of the health science center in Fort Worth, said the new virtual patient care is an example of how partnerships can fill gaps in student and health care services.
“We are excited about being able to be a part of bringing a higher level of care to the students at UNT Dallas.” Dr. Williams said during the ribbon cutting ceremony.
This telemedicine project began with a “soft opening” in December, Summerhill said. She has been seeing about four to five patients via the virtual technology every week. She moves between patients in Fort Worth and Dallas effortlessly with help from LaQuisha Robinson, a nurse in Dallas who preps patients for the virtual medical visits.
Robinson, a licensed vocational nurse, uses a triage system at the Dallas clinic. She helps students with their appointments. Students can walk in or call for appointments. They can also schedule them online.
“We are able to do a visit except that I am here and they are there,” Summerhill said, explaining how Robinson has a computer on wheels equipped with USB devices that allow her to listen to a patient’s heart and lungs.
Summerhill can also check a patient’s ears and throat using images transmitted on a computer.
“I do vitals and she talks to them over the monitor,” Robinson said.
Fernando Lomeli, a senior at UNT Dallas said the virtual clinic is great.
“It is using new technology that we are going to see in the future,” he said.