MUSC Health partnering with Clemson, College of Charleston on student health services

August 24, 2020
young people with backpacks and face masks cross the street
Students at the College of Charleston as well as at Clemson University have more options for health care after MUSC Health partnered with the two universities' health services. Photo by Sarah Pack

As the fall semester begins at Clemson University and the College of Charleston, students at both universities have new health care options, thanks to partnerships with MUSC Health. 

The students now have 24/7 access to a health care provider through MUSC Health’s virtual urgent care. Clemson students have had scheduled access to telepsychiatry for the past academic year, and that service will now be provided at the College of Charleston as well.

Both universities have student health centers, and the doctors and nurses at those centers will continue to provide care. But, as Eugene Hong, M.D., chief physician executive at MUSC Health, pointed out, health care isn’t central to the mission of most universities.

“A university without a medical school is not in the business of delivering health care,” he said. “I think Clemson and the College of Charleston are being smart to look for a health care partner to deliver student health services.”

MUSC Health will supplement the care already provided by student health services by offering care when it wouldn’t otherwise be available – such as after-hours urgent care – and by offering more mental health services, an area of concern at colleges across the nation. An American College Health Association survey in 2019, for example, found that almost 28% of students reported that anxiety affected their academic performance, and 20% reported that depression affected their academic performance.

“It's a huge challenge for universities to deliver on mental health services. Already we’re doing telemental health services, and it’s going very well,” Hong said.

In addition, at the College of Charleston, MUSC Health will offer on-site psychiatry services, improved availability to clinical care, integrated imaging and lab and pharmacy services.

“There are many days out of the year, particularly during flu season and at exam times, when the number of students seeking to make an appointment exceeds our availability,” said College of Charleston Student Health Services director Bridget McLernon Sykes. “SHS has the capacity to see approximately 100 students per day, but with the 24/7 virtual urgent care, that capacity will greatly increase both during normal operating hours as well as outside of the normal hours of in-person care. And the collaboration allows providers to have consultations with infectious disease experts as needed, in addition to providing students with access to MUSC’s vast network of specialty care.”

Tom Crawford, Ph.D., chief operating officer at MUSC Health, said providing care at the two universities is just part of MUSC Health’s mission to ensure exceptional care is available to all South Carolinians. He said these partnerships, in particular, leverage two of MUSC Health’s strengths – telemedicine and ambulatory care.

The universities are akin to small towns. Clemson’s student health center provided 50,000 health visits last year, and the College of Charleston’s provides between 15,000 and 17,000.

“We talk a lot about reaching rural access patients and underserved populations, but really, a university community is a whole other population,” Hong said.

Chris Pelic adjusts the camera above his computer monitor 
Dr. Chris Pelic adjusts the camera over his computer as he prepares for a telepsychiatry visit last fall. Photo by Sarah Pack

He’s excited about the opportunity to make an impact on more people and become a partner in community medicine with the universities.

Much of the work of the two partnerships will be behind the scenes. At both universities, MUSC Health will hire an operations manager who will assess programs and services, budgets, policies and procedures. Danielle Scheurer, M.D., chief quality officer, will be able to walk the student health operations through the quality assurance and performance improvement process, Crawford said. Joint oversight groups are currently establishing performance metrics around areas like patient care and satisfaction, he said.

“We're really just kicking off the relationship, but we’re really, really excited to further the collaboration with Clemson to help build around an already solid infrastructure for student health and to integrate some of our service delivery models with the infrastructure they currently have in place,” he said.

George Clay, DHA, executive director of Clemson’s Redfern Health Center, said the Redfern team prides itself on providing an integrated system of care.

“One of the things I am really proud of is that we have a team at Redfern that is always looking for ways to improve,” Clay said. “That is an important aspect of our culture, and we will approach the partnership in that spirit.”

The agreement with Clemson was announced earlier this summer. Virtual urgent care became available to students on July 15, and so far, there have been 20 virtual care visits; that number is expected to pick up as Clemson’s fall semester began on Aug. 19 in a virtual format.

The College of Charleston fall semester begins online on Aug. 25.

“The College of Charleston already has a number of dedicated people who are doing an exceptional job, but it’s now about piggybacking onto our health system,” Crawford said.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is hanging over both universities as classes resume, and Crawford said the pandemic might initially push MUSC Health to offer more virtual services in places where it had planned in-person options. But, he added, “What MUSC Health is known for is not just our ability to provide exceptional care, but our ability, for a large health system, to be nimble and pivot. We demonstrated that during COVID, and we’ll demonstrate that to our student health partners to meet their needs as they make decisions moving forward.”

Hong said he expects the partnerships to deepen and evolve over time.

“It can be so much more, so we’re really excited about getting started and having the opportunity,” he said.

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