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Telemedicine May Prove Valuable in Rural Sexual Assault Cases

A pilot program launched by Penn State will use telemedicine to help nurses in rural health systems identify and treat victims of sexual assault.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A new program in Pennsylvania plans to use telemedicine to help nurses identify and treat sexual assault victims.

The Penn State College of Nursing is using a Justice Department grant to launch the program through the Pennsylvania Sexual Assault Forensic Examination and Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center on the Penn State campus. Plans call for four rural health sites to be linked to the SAFE-T Center later this year in a pilot project.

Through the platform, nurses in those rural health systems can train to become forensic Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) or connect in real-time with a trained SANE provider when a patient visits the health system.

One of those sites, 20-bed Geisinger Lewiston, sees about a dozen suspected sexual assault victims each year, Tiffany Boozel, the hospital’s administrative team leader and a SANE provider, told the news site Philly.

A telemedicine link, she said, will give SAFE nurses “peace of mind” in knowing they can update their training or get immediate help when a patient arrives.

“As we collect evidence, [experienced SANEs] can talk to the patient,” she said.

Dr. Sheridan Miyamoto, SAFE-T’s director, said the center opened its forensic simulation lab this summer and plans to be fully functional next March.

“Penn State is really committed to being a part of the solution for victims of sexual assault,” Miyamoto, who is also an assistant professor of nursing and faculty member in the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, said in a video posted on the site. “The SAFE-T Center is necessary because people that are living in rural communities do not have the same access to high-quality sexual assault care if they’ve experienced a trauma.”

“The space will function as an immersive simulation lab, complete with forensic mannequins, virtual reality technology and observation space for our expert SANE providers, rural SANE providers and Penn State students in the Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies minor,” she told

“This program has the potential to improve forensic evidence collection, forensic exam quality and patient satisfaction with the care received,” she added. “We also hope to show that this program can sustain a workforce, increase access and quality of care for victims, and reduce costs related to SANE turnover and improved plea and prosecution success.”

The benefits of real-time communication on a secure video network are becoming attractive to health systems, schools and courts in rural locations across the country. Many are looking for a link to expert advice when faced with sensitive issues like abuse or neglect.

Several health systems, including Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, Intermountain Healthcare’s Center for Safe and Healthy Families and the Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, use a telemedicine platform developed by XIFIN to connect clinicians in rural locations with trained experts in identifying child abuse or neglect.

“We’ve saved lives, and we’ve saved families,” Dr. Lori D. Frasier, division chief of child abuse pediatrics at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, told in a March 2016 interview. “The value is in the accuracy of the diagnosis. Over-interpreting something can be a huge cost to children and families.”

“There aren’t a lot of (clinicians) out there who can provide that expertise,” she added, noting that advocacy centers require an expert opinion before they’ll take any action. “You need someone who know what to look for.”


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