Objective: To describe the advantages, disadvantages and current status of child abuse consultations conducted through telemedicine networks.
Method: The results of a telephone survey of seven statewide telemedicine networks are reported and discussed with respect to goals, funding, technical support and expertise, infrastructure, and extent of use. Quality assurance and liability issues concerning telemedicine child abuse consultations are also reviewed.
Results: The goals of telemedicine networks in child abuse are to provide (1) expertise to less experienced clinicians primarily in rural areas; (2) a method for peer review and quality assurance to build consensus of opinions particularly in sexual abuse cases; and (3) support for professionals involved in an emotionally burdensome area of pediatrics. Problems encountered by existing networks include: (1) funding for equipment and reimbursement for consultation; (2) consistent technical support: (3) clinician lack of technical expertise, knowledge, or motivation; and (4) lack of network infrastructure. Legal considerations include licensure exemptions for consulting across state lines, potential for malpractice, patient confidentiality and security of images forwarded over modem lines, and liability of the equipment, consulting site, and the consultant in criminal proceedings.
Conclusions: Telemedicine consultations offer a unique opportunity to raise the standard of care in child abuse evaluations, but success depends on clinician motivation, appropriate infrastructure, and ongoing funding and technical support.