• July/August 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 4

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Florida First to Use Telemedicine to Evaluate Alleged Child Abuse

Through the use of electronic or "telemedicine" technology, potential victims of child abuse referred to emergency rooms in rural Florida communities may be examined by a pediatrician or advanced nurse practitioner located miles away.

Presenters from Florida explained the technology at the 13th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect held in April in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Florida has a unique system of 25 medically directed, multidisciplinary Child Protection Teams (CPTs) that evaluate alleged child abuse. In existence since 1978, the role of the teams expanded greatly in 1999 when the Florida legislature passed legislation that mandated that child protective investigators refer certain cases to the CPTs for medical evaluations and other assessment services. Teams are now responsible for reviewing all cases of child abuse and neglect reported to the Department of Children and Families hotline to determine which reports meet mandatory referral criteria.

To keep up with the increasing number of abuse reports, and as an alternative to establishing additional CPTs, Florida's Children's Medical Services developed a pilot real-time telemedicine network for the evaluation of children suspected to be abused or neglected in 1998. In this model, experts in child abuse located at two remote "hub" sites—the Children's Crisis Center in Jacksonville and the University of Florida in Gainesville—connect to local staff in eight remote sites. This was the first time in the nation that real-time telemedicine had been used in the child protection field.

Telemedicine computer and camera equipment allows medical staff to transmit live child abuse assessments between a hub and remote sites. The equipment has camera features that allow professional staff viewing the assessments at a different location to see external and internal physical examinations.

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the telemedicine network was created to:

  • Reduce the number of children needing transportation for evaluation.
  • Expedite child safety decisions.
  • Increase the number of successful court actions by improving local expert court testimony.
  • Create a new role for nursing staff in evaluating these cases.
  • Increase training opportunities for local health care providers.

The Florida experience is undergoing quantitative and qualitative evaluations. For more information about the Florida Telemedicine Network, contact:

Betsy M. Wood, BSN, MPH
Unit Director for Special Technologies
Children's Medical Services
4052 Bald Cypress Way—Bin A06
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Phone: 850-245-4444 ext. 2261
Email: Betsy_Wood@doh.state.fl.us

To order an audiotape of the Florida Telemedicine presentation at the 13th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect (session 94), contact:

Conference Recording Service, Inc.
1308 Gilman St.
Berkeley, CA 94706
Phone: 510-527-3600
Fax: 510-527-8404
Website: http://www.conferencerecording.com

Related Items

Download a comprehensive guidebook to establishing a child protection team telemedicine network at: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/cms/pdivision/guide.pdf.

Read about the CARE (Child at Risk Evaluation) program in Hawaii, which coordinates medical services for abused and neglected children through a partnership of organizations at http://starbulletin.com:80/2001/05/28/news. A pilot program at a child protection center uses a digital camera and computer equipment to connect to a nearby hospital's forensic pediatrician for consultation.

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