21, No. 18, April 18, 2002
Dial-A-Mom service provides
confidential medical advice 24/7
By Craig Chamberlain, News Bureau Staff Writer
(217) 333-2894; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
Michele MacLeod is one of the McKinley Health Center's registered
nurses who take turns at the Dial-A-Nurse station, which provides
confidential health advice to students around the clock.
Its late in
the afternoon, you think youve got a fever, and you know you feel
lousy. But moms not around to figure out whats wrong or
even administer the chicken soup.
Or its late in the evening, you just twisted your ankle, and it
has swollen to the size of a softball.
Or maybe its 2 a.m. on a spring break weekend in Texas, and your
roommate has passed out on the floor after a drinking binge. Will she
be fine sleeping it off, or is she suffering from alcohol poisoning?
Who can help?
For UI students, the answer is Dial-A-Nurse. Any time of the day or
week in todays parlance, 24/7 its the number
to call for confidential advice about any and all medical concerns,
and guidance on the proper course of action.
Its been a service of the universitys McKinley Health Center
for at least 20 years, and in fact was one of the nations first
"telehealth" services. "We were used as an example in
some early books (on the subject) that were published back then,"
said Connie Maske, the assistant director at McKinley who oversees clinical
support services, including Dial-A-Nurse.
Perhaps half of all U.S. colleges and universities now have a similar
service, though many contract them out, and many to out-of-town agencies,
Maske said. "What I think is so good about us is that we do it
internally, we do it locally, and we try to write out protocols (used
by the Dial-A-Nurse nurses) to match with our services and what we think
the students need."
"I think its a great aspect that we have (as part of the
health center)," said Sara Strell, a junior in community health
from La Salle, Ill., who joined McKinleys Student Advisory Board
last fall. "If anybody has a question, they can call a certified
health professional, as opposed to taking the chance of getting the
information off the Internet, or just going by a friends assessment
of the situation."
The importance of Dial-A-Nurse for McKinley might be illustrated by
its prominent placement on the health centers home page on the
Web. Its importance to students is shown by the number of calls: more
than 11,000 during the first 11 months of 2001, according to McKinley
Dial-A-Nurse offers answers to basic medical questions, and guidance
in dealing with specific medical concerns. But in the process of doing
that, Maske said, it also serves as a bridge or guide for many students
to what McKinley has to offer, most of which is provided at no extra
McKinleys services, including Dial-A-Nurse, are supported by the
health fee paid each term by all registered students.
Dial-A-Nurse is actually three different operations in one. During regular
business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the calls may be handled by various
nurses at McKinley. From 5 p.m. to midnight on weekdays, the calls are
taken by Georga OConnor, McKinleys full-time evening Dial-A-Nurse.
And from midnight to 8 a.m. on weekdays, 4 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday,
and on some holidays and breaks, the calls go to the telehealth service
at Carle Clinic Association in Urbana. Carle has been contracted to
provide that part of the service over the last three school years, and
coordinates closely with McKinley. The student health center, for example,
gets regular reports on student calls, and Carle nurses refer students
to McKinley for services and doctor appointments, where medically appropriate.
The nurses who take calls have to be prepared for almost any problem
or concern, Maske said. "It may be all the way from You need
to take some Tylenol to something very serious where were
referring them to an emergency room."
Though most students are in the 18-to-24 age range and in generally
good health, "any medical condition that would exist in the real
world exists in these students," she said. There are students with
transplanted organs, students on chemotherapy, students with HIV, diabetes,
asthma and mental health concerns, and students dealing with the effects
of substance abuse and sexually transmitted disease.
And then there are all the questions "that have nothing to do with
actual medical care," Maske said. Its one reason the service
is known also as
"Dial-A-Mom," she said. The nickname apparently originated
with a particular nurse who staffed the phone in the evenings over several
years, and became popular with students. But it continues as a nickname
for the service because health matters often touch on other personal
matters, and on other everyday concerns that students may still be learning
to deal with on their own.
"Sometimes its just (giving them) that common-sense answer
that is right in front of them," said Penny Meeker, Carles
patient care director, who oversees its telehealth services. "And
they just need guidance to develop independence in their ability to
problem solve for themselves."
Based on her experience with Dial-A-Nurse, Meeker suggested parents
should think about how they can better prepare their college-bound children
for the transition to caring for their own health needs. One very basic
example: pack a thermometer along with the computer.
Maske estimated that maybe one in 10 calls to Dial-A-Nurse actually
comes from parents, sometimes asking general information about services,
and sometimes asking specific questions for their son or daughter. The
calls from parents also often spike up following reports of cases such
as meningitis, even when those cases are at another school or in the
Chicago area, she said. Parents want to know about the risk on campus,
the preparations, the wisdom of getting the vaccine, etc.
In the weeks following Sept. 11 last year, "we got calls about
anthrax from parents, we got calls from parents wanting to know if we
had the smallpox vaccine," Maske said.
Those calls from parents to Dial-A-Nurse (333-2700) are welcomed, Maske
and Meeker said. They also noted that both parents and students can
find extensive information about McKinley services and specific health
concerns on the McKinley Web site, www.mckinley.uiuc.edu.
They cautioned, however, that parents who call hoping to check up on
their childrens health will get little satisfaction. Parents need
to have an "open dialogue" with their kids about health matters,
because if parents call for that information, theres very little
that McKinley or Carle can provide, Meeker said.
"We really cannot even validate that their child called and talked
to us. We cant do that because thats a breach of confidentiality
for that student," she said, and thats protected by federal