Use of Telemedicine for the Physical Examination of Children With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2021 Feb;45(2):409-417. doi: 10.1111/acer.14533. Epub 2021 Feb 8.


Background: The fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are among the most prevalent causes of neurodevelopmental disorders. The diagnosis is based on assessment of prenatal alcohol exposure, specific physical features identified with a dysmorphology examination, and neurobehavioral assessment. Prompt diagnosis of affected children is necessary to provide early intervention services in a timely manner; however, the availability of diagnostic expertise is limited. We propose telemedicine (TM) as a valid and reliable mode by which the physical phenotype of FASD can be accurately assessed.

Methods: We compared face-to-face (F2F) physical examinations of the 3 key facial features and the resulting physical phenotype of the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and partial FAS (pFAS), as well as 12 additional physical features seen more frequently in children with FAS than in the general population in 61 individuals with 2 different TM methods. These included a Transportable Examination Station system using a precision camera and a laptop and a Zoom secure connection system (ZOOM), using a smart phone and a tablet. We measured the percentages of agreement and the Cohen's K coefficient for each comparison.

Results: Agreements for most physical features and for the physical phenotype of FAS and pFAS were in the "almost perfect" range with some exceptions in the "substantial" range. Imprecision in measurement and subjectivity underlie lower agreement for some features, both F2F and using TM. We identified the optimal conditions for the F2F examinations in order to assure reliability using TM.

Conclusions: TM is a valid and reliable method for the examination of the physical features of FAS that may contribute to greater access to an early diagnosis of FASD in children prenatally exposed to alcohol and/or with characteristic neurobehavioral deficits.

Keywords: Dysmorphic Features; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders; Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; Physical Examination; Telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Physical Examination / instrumentation
  • Physical Examination / methods*
  • Physical Examination / standards
  • Pregnancy
  • Telemedicine / instrumentation
  • Telemedicine / methods*
  • Telemedicine / standards