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Health Center continues supporting students, opens virtual consultations

May 1, 2020

Since the College transitioned to remote learning due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Bowdoin Health Services has continued to provide free medical services to students both on and off-campus. While the limited number of students on campus can still schedule in-person visits, those who are living off-campus can now reach out to the Health Center to request prescription refills and schedule remote consultations through Microsoft Teams.

The bulk of the services offered by the Health Center are treatments for acute medical problems, which are medical concerns that have suddenly developed, including physical injuries or illnesses. According to Director of Health Services Jeffrey Maher, the shift to online consultations doesn’t mean a drop in quality of care compared to in-person appointments.

“In my experience, about 90 percent of the time, the medical problem can be discerned by accurate history, [and] by talking to a person, I can come up with a general idea or maybe a really good idea of what’s going on,” Maher said in a video interview with the Orient. “A physical exam may corroborate what I’m already thinking, but it’s not the most important part of a medical encounter. That’s the interview and discussion.”

With the majority of hospitals overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is harder for students to access their primary healthcare providers and receive basic medical services such as refilling prescriptions. The health center’s shift to telemedicine has allowed for a continuity of care for many students, especially for those who have ongoing relationships with the health center.

Itza Bonilla-Hernandez ’20 praised the Health Center’s speed and accessibility while refilling her prescriptions.

“I used [health services] to get some prescriptions I needed, and it was super easy and they got back to me very quickly and everything went smoothly,” wrote Bonilla-Hernandez in an email to the Orient.

Despite their availability, Maher has noted a significant drop in the number of students using their services.

“As people are sheltering in place or spread out throughout the country, they are not getting sick. And if they are getting sick, they’re able to manage from home because people’s first resource is the people they live with,” Maher said. “So they may have more home resources that they don’t have to call health services for.”

Students do not need to be on Bowdoin’s health insurance to access the Health Center’s resources.

For students covered by Bowdoin’s Health Insurance Plan who may be concerned about their ability to access medical care when the academic year ends, Maher emphasized that the coverage ends in August.

However, during the Town Hall on Wednesday, Dean of Student Affairs Janet Lohmann stated that even if the fall semester is remote, students will still be able to apply for Bowdoin’s health insurance with a similar application process as previous years.

Although the Health Center is usually not open in the summer, Lohmann mentioned during the Town Hall on Wednesday night that health services may have some availability this summer.

“But, I’m not sure it will be available strictly [for the] limited number of students who are on campus for the summer or whether we’d be opening up to students who are living in Brunswick, but traditionally we encourage students to use the walk-in clinic and other local services,” she said.

Looking ahead, the Health Center has begun preparing for next semester, whether it be online or on-campus.

“We’ll be tasked with plans on how to manage students on campus, students remotely and students who have to fluctuate quickly between being on campus to remotely, because that could happen too,” said Maher. “We’re ready to do whatever the situation allows, with guidance from the College but also with guidance from our peers in the state of Maine, peers [at] the CDC and peers at other colleges.”


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