Upstate News

May 22, 2009
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Telemedicine program that allows hospitalized children to attend school wins honor

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— A telemedicine program at Upstate Medical University that enables children with medical needs to attend school from their hospital bed or while recovering at home has been honored by the Computerworld Honors Program.

The program, Staying Connected is Good Medicine, has been named a finalist of the Laureate Award from Computerworld, a leading source of technology news and information for technology people worldwide. Upstate will be recognized during ceremonies June 1 in Washington, D.C.

Staying Connected is Good Medicine enables children to see their classmates and teacher and vice versa, get assignments and participate in lessons in real time right from their hospital or treatment room or kitchen table.

Mary Ellen Michalenko, am Onondaga Cortland Madison BOCES teacher based at Upstate’s University Hospital, says the program’s benefits aren’t solely about staying current with assignments.

“The program offers children the opportunity to maintain social and emotional relationships with their classmates,” she said. “The students continued presence in the classroom through videoconferencing allows them to return to school more comfortably without the anxiety of being misunderstood since staff and classmates are aware of the physical changes they’ve experienced.”

Patients participating in the program also receive in-hospital and at-home tutoring.

Hospitalized children or those recovering at home use a portable teleconferencing unit produced by Tandberg that includes video and audio capabilities and laptop computer to link in with their classrooms and classmates. The link is made through a broadband connection. If broadband service is not currently in place, Time Warner installs the connection and keeps it operational during the duration of the child’s participation in the program.

Patients can pan, tilt and even zoom the camera to see study packets and other course materials up close.

Since launching in 2004, the program has served students in the Sandy Creek, Fulton, Massena, Central Square and Mexico school districts.

One mother of a student participating in the program said Staying Connected gave her daughter a reason to get up in the morning, get dressed and look her best, just like she was on her school schedule again.

Upstate’s Telemedicine Program Manager Jo Ann Shupe said the response to the program, not just from parents and their children, has been overwhelmingly positive. “Everyone involved in this telemedicine initiative, from Tandberg, to Time Warner to the area school districts, has seen how it changes the lives of the students,” she said. “They are excited about being involved in a program that showcases how powerful and effective technology can be, especially in the area of medicine and education.”

Michalenko said the real importance of the program extends beyond books, grades and friendship. “Ensuring that a child remains involved in their school work and classroom experience is vital because it reinforces the expectation that the child will get better and their life return to normal.”

The program is expected to expand to additional school districts when the Golisano Children’s Hospital at Upstate opens in September.

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