Every year, thousands of children in Georgia who are sexually or physically abused need specialized medical evaluation. Yet this service is typically available only in urban centers. Much of Georgia, like much of the country as a whole, is rural, so many children are either unable to obtain needed care or they must travel great distances to reach a specialty clinic. To address this need, the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Center for Safe and Healthy Children (CSHC) started using telemedicine in January 2009.
The CSHC has two outpatient clinics in metro Atlanta to provide forensic interviews and medical evaluations to children and adolescents who are suspected victims of abuse or neglect. The CSHC collaborated with the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth and several child advocacy centers throughout the state to create the ability to provide children in rural communities access to child abuse physicians.
Child advocacy centers provide prevention, intervention and treatment services to victims of abuse and are ideal partners for bringing telemedicine evaluations to local children. In the case of suspected abuse, the police contact a local child advocacy center associated with the telemedicine network. They immediately call the Children’s Telemedicine Program to schedule a consultation. At the appointed time, the child and parent come to the local child advocacy center where they are greeted by a social worker and a medical provider, usually a nurse. They enter an exam room equipped for teleconferencing. The nurse explains the procedure and introduces the specialist to the family. From a desk in Atlanta, the specialist greets and engages the family in conversation to help them relax. The interaction takes place through high-resolution screens that allow the patient, family and doctors to communicate in real time. Together, the nurse and specialist obtain information about the abuse event and the child’s general health. The nurse performs a head-to-toe physical exam on the child with the specialist guiding the process utilizing telemedicine equipment.
According to Jordan Greenbaum, M.D., Medical Director of Children’s CSHC, telemedicine has several tangible benefits. “An evaluation utilizing telemedicine reduces parental anxiety and stress by providing prompt access to expert care and support. It also saves time and resources for authorities, who can lose a workday driving to and from Atlanta. And for rural medical providers, telemedicine relieves some of the burden of accurately identifying abuse and interpreting physical findings.”
Kelley Kesler, MS, Director of Special Projects; firstname.lastname@example.org