Company aims to reduce school sick days in Austin-area schools

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A new smart phone app could reduce the number of students who have to take sick days in Austin-area schools.

Kinsa is a free app that allows parents to share and view illness reports, common symptoms and the overall health status of their child’s school. The app can also help parents keep track of how long their child has been sick and what medications she or he has taken.

An attachable smart thermometer allows parents and guardians to use the app to take their child’s temperature and track it over a period of days. The thermometer is available at www.kinsahealth.com for $20, but Kinsa is giving the devices away for free at some elementary schools as part of its FLUency program.

Kathy Caraway Elementary School in Round Rock ISD is one of 80 schools chosen for the free program so far, out of about 1,100 applicants throughout the country.

Lauren Davis, Kinsa’s head of marketing, works from an office on South Congress Avenue. Her daughter attends Travis Heights Elementary School, where Kinsa launched the FLUency pilot program in the 2014-15 school year and also gave away free thermometers.

“Being a Title I school made [Travis Heights] especially interesting to us,” Davis said. The school has a diverse population with many students whose parents both work full time, making it difficult to accommodate sick days, she said.

When children do not come to class, it also hurts the school and the school district, Davis said.

“They lose funding every time a student gets sick,” she said.

Kinsa estimates unexcused absences cost public schools about $40 per child per sick day. By the end of the pilot program, daily attendance at Travis Heights jumped from 90 percent to 95 percent, Davis said.

The app includes a message feature that allows parents to share information and recommendations with one another. In one case at Travis Heights, Davis said a single mother saved a late-night trip to the emergency room by posting her child’s symptoms on the message board. Minutes later, an area father responded the symptoms were identical to ones his own child had experienced from having Fifth Disease, which is viral illness that goes away with time. The mother was able to wait until the following day to take her child to the doctor, rather than taking both her children to the hospital in the middle of the night, Davis said.

School nurse Judy Gullen is the coordinator of the program at Kathy Caraway Elementary, which received its smart thermometers in November.

“We have children from all sorts of incomes and all sorts of cultures,” Gullen said. “The one thing that we all have in common … are smartphones.”

Davis said the number of parents with smartphones plays a large role in deciding which schools to choose for the FLUency program. The biggest factor, she said, is identifying a school coordinator to get parents involved.

Out of a student population of 740, Gullen said 170 families—many with more than one child attending Caraway—have signed up for the program so far.

“We’re striving for 50 percent,” she said.

Caraway Principal Katrina Bailey said the program saves low-income families from having to buy a thermometer or making an expensive trip to the doctor. If parents catch illnesses early, it limits the amount of sick days taken by individual students as well as the chances the illness will spread throughout the student body, Bailey said.

Gullen said what drew her to the FLUency program was its universal access.

“It doesn’t matter what your income is,” she said. “Everybody was eligible.”

Davis said Kinsa is capping the FLUency program at 100 schools, so the company is still accepting applications.

“Kinsa’s mission is to keep communities healthy, and the FLUency program is showing us how that works in real-time with elementary school communities,” Davis said.

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