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UC Davis to Use Telemedicine to Treat Remote Disabled Children

UC Davis will use a five-year, $2 million AHRQ grant to treat children in remote and rural counties with severe disabilities through a school-based telemedicine platform.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A California health system is getting a $2 million federal grant to launch a school-based telemedicine program for children with disabilities living in remote areas.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is giving the five-year grant to the Sacramento-based UC Davis Department of Pediatrics to launch and support its School-Based Tele-Physiatry Assistance for Rehabilitative and Therapeutic Services (STARS) program. The program provides telerehabilitation services with children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries and other disabilities.

According to UC Davis officials, psyiatry is a branch of medicine centered on non-surgical physical medicine and rehabilitation, aiming to restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments. 

The California Children’s Services’ Medical Therapy Program delivers free, coordinated care for children with physical disabilities through school-based clinics, where visiting clinicians “examine each child to determine the best therapeutic approaches to prevent complications and reduce suffering, prescribing physical therapy and medications, as well as devices, such as orthotics, braces and wheelchairs.”

The AHRQ grant aims to improve access for children in rural and isolated communities.

“The goal of the STARS program is to broaden our reach,” Loren Davidson, associate clinical professor and chief of pediatric rehabilitation at UC Davis, said in a press release. “We’re geographically limited based on the distance from the medical center and how many staff we have to send out. We’re trying to bridge the provider gap through telemedicine, trying to reach these underserved communities.”

“In some faraway counties, they can’t even hire a physician, they just tell the family they have to drive,” added James Marcin, chief of pediatric critical care medicine and director of the pediatric telemedicine program at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “It’s a huge burden on children and their families.”

Through the telemedicine program, UC Davis will set up virtual visit technology at schools in San Joaquin, Butte, Mendocino, Lodi and Fresno counties, giving Davidson and his colleagues the opportunity to examine the children remotely.

“One of our goals is to look at hip surveillance screening,” he said. “Kids with cerebral palsy are at high risk for hip dislocation. The best treatment is to identify these problems early, before the hip completely dislocates. An orthopedic surgeon can keep the hip in, but when the doc providing guidance is not a rehab doc and not affiliated with the pediatric orthopedists conducting surveillance, the screening doesn’t get done.”

The grant will be used to test the effectiveness of a telemedicine platform in providing care for children and their families, focusing on how physiatrists use the platform and compared to how they deliver care in person and how other clinicians deliver that care in person. Targeted outcomes include cost, quality of care and “patient-centeredness.”

“The hardest thing to see is different outcomes based on how close patients live to a children’s hospital,” Davidson concluded. “That should not be a determining factor.”

 

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