Devices & Technology

Health eTools for Schools Helps Improve Children’s Health

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By Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics, LLC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that since the mid-70s, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for both adults and children. Two surveys show increases in overweight among children and teens since then.

This is a serious issue as it has been shown that being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions. The current generation of children in school today is in danger of becoming the first in this country's history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Health eTools for Schools is a secure internet-based nutrition and physical activity program (portal) developed by InnerLink, Inc. of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Health eTools was created for the Highmark Foundation as an outgrowth of the insurance company’s commitment to improve children’s health in substantive ways over the next five years. Funding provided through the Foundation’s Highmark Healthy High 5 initiative makes Health eTools for Schools available at no cost to participating school districts, parochial and charter schools in their 49 county region. Health eTools is available across the remaining 18 Pennsylvania counties with support from Independence Blue Cross and Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The program is highly customized to meet the needs of Pennsylvania schools. “More than 800 nurses across Pennsylvania are enrolled in Health eTools. The nurses are using eTools to record daily encounters, medications and screenings provided on more than 430,000 students,” noted Martha Harris, Managing Director of Coordinated School Health solutions at InnerLink.

Health eTools for Schools is based on the Coordinated School Health Model developed by the CDC. The features are designed to collect data and prepare reports for the staff and stakeholders including: school nurses, nutrition service champions, educators, physical education instructors, administrators, wellness coordinators, parents and State reporting agencies.

“Health eTools is designed to encourage best practices and provide a comprehensive approach to physical health,” explained Harris.

The program can be used to input, track and communicate students’ health and fitness with these features.

  • Enter data for a number of state-required health and wellness screening: Body Mass Index (BMI), Vision, Hearing, Growth, Scoliosis, Physical and Fitness.
  • Upload student demographic data from the school management information system.
  • Maintain school health record including nurse office visits for injury or illness, chronic disease, plans, medications administered.
  • Easily access research-based, validated educational content from nationally known resources such as HealthTeacher, SPARK, CATCH.
  • Print letters to parents and referral letters to physicians.
  • Prepare reports for annual school reporting to State agencies.
  • Communication tools that enable collaboration among the stakeholders.
  • Allows data entry through a desktop or laptop computer or via a handheld device.

The program presents colorful and school-themed screens to the user. “The menu is designed so that each user is presented with a menu that has the features specific to their role, for instance school nurse, physical education instructor, or wellness coordinator,” said Harris. “Each user also has three menu options in common, The Theme Team allowing collaboration, the Wellness Workbook and an option to adjust their settings.”

“Each feature is designed to encourage best practices and provide a means to improve overall school performance through a comprehensive approach to physical health,” added Harris. “The tool allows school nurses to increase the time spent with students and doing education and decrease the time spent record keeping.”

Kim Bliley RN, CSN, MEd, School Nurse Coordinator, Erie City Public Schools in Pennsylvania, is using Health eTools and has noticed many benefits, chief among them the professional look that is added to her reports and letters. “The tool adds more professionalism through the letters that can be printed,” said. “For instance, we used to have typed form letters with fill-in the blanks for BMI and name.”

Each of the features that Bliley uses is enhanced by the professional letters and reports that she generates. “When a student visits the nurse’s office, I can access the student’s health record, immediately see any alerts related to chronic illness and plans, document the visit and then prepare a letter to the parent.” “At the end of the month, I can send the parent of an asthmatic a report on the number of times the child visited the nurse and how many required treatment or medication.”

State reporting was calculated by hand each year. “Pennsylvania State Reporting requires tallies of a large number of services provided by school nurses, including injury visits, illness visits, medication doses, and the required health screenings, eTools records those numbers automatically from the information entered throughout the year.”

Cindy Chantz, RN, BSN at Beaver Middle School/High School in Pennsylvania. is using Health eTools and a grant from Highmark Healthy High 5 to provide a program to an at risk population that fosters physical fitness through both exercise and instruction on nutrition and healthy life style choices. “I have always believed that habits develop readily with repetition over a very short while and that with respectful invitation, success for our students as well as for concerned mentors, is just a program away,” said Chantz.

“Towards the end of last school year, I provided all parents/students with our school screening results which include heights/weights and BMI readings, which were recorded and tracked in Health eTools,” explained Chantz. “A brief explanation of BMI was included with all letters, resourced from Health eTools as well as suggestions for helping their children improve their overall health and lower BMI’s.”

At this point, the students who had BMI results within the range of being “overweight” were selected to be sent a letter about the program. “The attached ‘letter’ was more of a pamphlet on pink paper that read: You’re Invited!! Girls only,” stated Chantz.

With a staff that includes a registered dietician, a fitness instructor and a fitness consultant who has PE teaching credentials, fitness certified and Masters in physiology – and sponsorship from three community businesses, the program recruited high school and later middle school girls.

Each student met with program’s fitness consultant who provided each girl with a thorough personal fitness evaluation including a personal exercise plan. Resting heart rate, target heart rate, and exercise heart rate were measured and recorded. Participants were scored on cardio fitness, curl-ups, trunk lift, upper body strength, flexibility and body composition. Specific written instructions were provided to each girl that outlined how to use equipment, specifying different exercises for each muscle group and time to be spent on particular exercises or repetitions. “The short term measurable goals that we will quantify are the amount of exercise each participant performs, the endurance changes observed while using equipment, and the general level of participation in the program,” explained Chantz.

“We want to enhance the collaboration opportunities across Pennsylvania by adding live discussion events with nurses and by having experts join the discussions,” said Harris. “We are also looking to add features that expand the health record and physical fitness components.”

Bliley summarized, “School nurses need tools just like the classroom teachers and the students and they should not be afraid, but rather embrace the technology.”

“Health eTools can also be used to aid nurses in setting and meeting goals to assist students to achieve personal success/results in the area of health,” summed Chantz.

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