A Small (Yet Powerful) Tool for Consistency of Care in Your District
When you think about templates, you might not imagine the most exciting work. Even the word “template” feels a little dry. And because templates are all about making processes universal, you might not imagine individualized care.
And yet, templates are a way to empower school health professionals to focus less on paperwork, and more on students, something that benefits both the provider and the patient. So yes, it is totally reasonable to get excited about templates.
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Districts are facing countless challenges everyday: Student mental health is in crisis, there’s an ongoing school nurse shortage, and schools are being asked to provide greater care for students. According to a survey from the National Education Association, “90% of [teachers] say feeling burned out is a serious problem.” That statistic might not feel new to you, but you might have assumptions about teachers’ ideas for addressing that burnout. Interestingly, two top ways teachers suggested to address educator burnout were providing mental health support and eliminating paperwork with 94% and 90% support respectively.
Burnout is a challenge that so many working people face, for all kinds of reasons. And that diversity of reasons makes it challenging to tackle. There’s no magic cure or easy way to make the problem disappear.
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But rather than feeling overwhelmed by the challenge ahead, let’s flip the script. Let’s make incremental positive changes that add up over time for your staff and providers.
Templates, specifically those you’ll find in an electronic health records system, offer an opportunity to cut down on unnecessary paperwork for providers while making the necessary forms (and the providers who fill them out) more effective.
Accurate documentation is foundational to a school nurse’s success, and with so much on school nurses’ plates, templates purpose-built for K-12 school nursing can go a long way in making their day-to-day work lives better.
So how do templates relate to consistency of care?
To achieve consistency of care, you’ll need effective communication, collaboration, and coordination. And, as you might have guessed, templates can help you with each of those areas.
“Templates, specifically those you’ll find in an electronic health records system, offer an opportunity to cut down on unnecessary paperwork for providers while making the necessary forms (and the providers who fill them out) more effective.”
Let’s explore the idea of communication from two different perspectives, based on the student’s needs, and how templates can impact the student’s care.
A Student Returning from a Residential Treatment Center
If a student has spent time in a residential treatment center, they’ll enter their school with a detailed plan of care. It’s entirely possible — and even likely — that a host of educators, providers, and health professionals will be responsible to carry out that plan at the school.
Of course, documenting those encounters will make supporting that student even more effective, allowing the team to communicate about the support the student is receiving.
Without operational definitions to keep everyone on the same page, students’ behaviors and conditions could be described differently based on the person they saw last.
For this student, templates can help ensure that no step in their care plan is missed. Templates also help the district with state reporting so that providers don’t have to keep a mental checklist of what to include in session notes.
A Student with Diabetes
If a student has a medical condition like diabetes, templates are helpful to their providers, too.
Whether it’s documenting a quick encounter in the nurse’s office or pulling up medication history for the student, it’s crucial to be able to locate historical data for the child quickly.
When every encounter is documented in the same way, it’s much easier — and faster — to absorb that information and be able to act accordingly.
And templates are designed to do exactly that: make it easy to document encounters in the same format every time the child is seen, so even if you have a substitute nurse for the day, they’ll be better prepared to offer quality care to the child.
School health providers communicate with so many stakeholders on any given day. Communicating with parents and guardians is central to that work. Utilizing templates and having an easy, secure way to share them with a child’s caretakers helps build positive relationships.
Clarity is intricately linked to communication, and if you’ve read any Brené Brown, you’ve likely heard or seen the phrase “clear is kind.” Templates, in all their simple glory, are clear. Templates, in their own special (and sometimes dry) way, are kind.
Although we’re moving on to collaboration, we’re not necessarily moving away from communication, because communication is so integral to effective collaboration. Take interpretation, for instance.
Interpretation is on the flip side of documentation. If a student is seeing multiple specialists in a school, each specialist might be in a situation where they are interpreting the documentation from another specialist’s encounter with that student. Or, thinking about a substitute nurse, they might be in a situation where they are scanning a student’s record before prescribing medication.
Templates can help create clarity around health protocols, vital information, and trends to ensure that no matter the number of specialists involved in a student’s care, everyone is set up for success to better support that student.
Collaboration also happens internally in the district, especially when you consider the Medicaid billing process. Your templates should provide direction around the kinds of information needed to submit claims to Medicaid. And if you’re planning to take advantage of something like school-based Medicaid expansion through Free Care, you’re going to need detailed plans of care to support claims.
For some students, the school nurse is the only health professional they will see over the course of a year. According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “more than one in ten (10.2%) uninsured children went without needed care due to cost in 2019 compared to less than 1% of children with private insurance. Furthermore, one in five (20.0%) uninsured children had not seen a doctor in the past year compared to 3.5% for both children with public and private coverage.” If your district has a higher population of uninsured students, your school nurses and other health professionals may experience greater pressure. Reducing paperwork is one simple way to reduce the pressure on these vital members of your school community.
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Both of our first areas of focus — communication and collaboration — are required for excellent coordination. When you have a plan of care, something you might see with students coming from residential treatment centers, you might notice that those plans are not always supported in your SIS. Especially when you’re dealing with sensitive counseling session information, your SIS might not be equipped to handle the nuance needed for mental and behavioral health plans.
So even if your SIS does offer templates as part of a health module, they might not be sufficient depending on your district’s needs.
With the ongoing staffing shortage, your students may encounter different educators who have different specialties. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a ratio of 1 school psychologist per 500 students. In contrast, the current NASP data estimates an actual ratio of 1 per 1,211 students on average. That means that multiple people of varying experience levels will likely be supporting students, and supporting students’ health might not be their primary role in the school. That makes it all the more important that they are equipped with easy ways to document their encounters thoroughly to maintain compliance.
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Of course, your district’s experience might be entirely different. If you’re in a larger district, you might be facing the challenges associated with running your own clinics and having more people involved at different stages of each process. Data integrity and uniformity can become crucial in those instances. Conversely, in a small district, you might have one person responsible for a wide array of processes, meaning they’d benefit from shortcuts that don’t negatively impact the care they offer to students. No matter the size of your district, whether you’re an urban or rural school, or the unique challenges you face, your goal is to provide every student with consistent care. Templates can make it easier to achieve that goal.
How you can support consistency of care
As you might have guessed, we’re fans of templates as a way to support consistency of care for a few reasons:
They make health providers’ jobs easier
They help your district maintain compliance
They save time for both providers and administrators
They help providers offer excellent care to students
Those are just a few reasons to consider implementing templates if you haven’t already. And if you have already implemented templates, don’t forget to take a look at all of the ways you can use them. If you use a system like Frontline School Health Management, you’ll find so many wonderful uses.
Elise is a writer and member of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. A former member of Frontline’s events team, she is passionate about making connections, whether that be in person at events, online via social media or directly in her writing.