Testing info and medical questions

Many thanks to all our families who are working to get their student’s COVID test ordered and submitted. We had a lot of questions late last week, so we have added a new FAQ on testing to Our Way Forward. Please check here if you have questions. Also, I know that this testing process has caused frustration for some of you and I am sorry for that.

One critical bit of news I heard over the weekend is that there are a number of students who have not yet ordered their test from Azova Health. Time is winding down to get this done before students start arriving on campus. This is critical because students must have a negative test on file for their Wake Forest ID card to be activated and to get access to their residence hall, campus buildings or services, etc. We need any of those students who will be coming back to Winston-Salem to request the test from Azova today. They’d want to take it as soon as the test arrives and ship it back via USPS Express (overnight mail) to the same address on the prepaid label. Again, see the FAQ on testing.

Even in non-COVID times, we typically get a couple of medical questions at the start of the school year. Last week I was in a meeting and heard Dr. Joanne Clinch, Clinical Director of the Student Health Service, address some of these common questions.

The first question is often “If my student is sick, how will I be notified?” Dr. Clinch explained that if your student is 18 or older, they have patient privacy rights under the NC Medical Board requirements for medical confidentiality. Thus, we need the student’s permission to provide information to their parents or loved ones, faculty members, etc. SHS does ask patients at each visit to find out if their parent/loved one calls, can SHS share the information from the visit; SHS documents that in the chart in case a parent/loved one calls. This allows the student to determine at the time of each visit if they want all or some of the information shared. Typically, our students do grant permission to talk to their family (the exceptions being if it is a situation they don’t want you to know about or something that is very personal).

If your student was diagnosed with COVID and agreed to share information with family members, Dr. Clinch said that the Student Health Service team would certainly answer questions and guide you on things like “Should I come get my son or daughter and bring them home?,” “How are they going to be cared for?”, etc.

The second question we typically receive is “What if my student needs to go to the Emergency Room? What happens?” Dr. Clinch explained that if the Student Health Service is sending the student to the Emergency Room, they would encourage the student to let SHS talk with their family to provide information and answer questions about the reason for the referral to the ER.

Residence Life & Housing is notified about all hospital transports that come from our Wake EMS team. RL&H sends a message out to campus partners (without any medical information) so that support can be provided; this includes the Chaplain’s Office (so they can check in on the student), Office of Academic Advising, etc. Parents are not notified of all hospital transports – if they are stable and alert, the University does not contact family; instead, the Emergency Room would answer questions if the student gives a release/permission. If the transport was for a life threatening condition, there is always an “Administrator on Call” who would be notified, and they would make an outreach to the family. 

The final question we get is “Where is the HIPAA form that my student can sign for the semester or the year?” Dr. Clinch said she would advise parents and loved ones NOT to ask students to sign such a form. The unintended consequence of asking your student to give full access to all medical information is that sometimes students should access the Student Health Service but there is a barrier there if they think their mom, dad, or family member is going to be notified every single time they go, particularly if they have a deeply personal or intimate issue. We do not want students to fail to seek care for being afraid of being ‘told on.’

Dr. Clinch assures that when the SHS team is treating a student, typically they say something like “You know, your family might have questions about this illness. How about we call them right now so you don’t have to translate the information to them and I can help answer?” 

Hope this adds some clarity on how medical issues are handled. What you can do right now, before your students move in, is talk to them about what your expectations are for them to give consent for you to speak to doctors should they become ill, and find a family arrangement that works for you.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)


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