Traverse City to Pioneer Telemedicine for Abused Kids

This Article was originally posted at By Carrie Henderson.

Local kids who are suspected of being victims of sexual abuse will now have access to downstate abuse specialists – without ever leaving Traverse City.

Credit the University of Michigan Health System’s Child Protection Team, which recently nabbed a $13,000 grant to launch a telemedicine program – in which patients visit with physicians via video conferencing – in a rural community.

The team chose Traverse City to launch the pioneering program, and the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center (TBCAC) and Munson Medical Center are joining forces to get it running by the end of the year.

The program will work like this: If a local child is suspected of being sexually abused, he or she will go to an undisclosed clinic in Traverse City. A nurse will be present in person to assist, but the forensic portion of the exam will be conducted via camera by Dr. Bethany Mohr, medical director of the Ann Arbor-based child protection team, or another sexual abuse specialist.

According to Mohr, this is the first time such exams will be performed via telemedicine in Michigan. “Based on my experience, these telemedicine evaluations truly replicate in-person evaluations,” she says.

Kathy Garthe, VP for regional system development and corporate communication at Munson Medical Center says, “The equipment is kind of like Skype but encrypted and very secure to ensure patient confidentiality.”

She adds that Munson has been using telemedicine in other types of examinations for years with great success. “Patients have found it’s as if the doctor is in the room with you. The doctor’s face fills the whole screen, and the doctor talks to you directly. However, patients seem to have less anxiety than if the doctor is actually there in person.”

Currently, children who are suspected of being victims of sexual abuse are seen at their local pediatrician’s office or Munson’s ER.

“Those doctors are great, and are a great resource, but there are very few pediatricians in Michigan who specialize specifically in child abuse. This new program will make sure [abused children in the area] get the best care in the state,” explains TBCAC’s Executive Director Brooke Nettz.

The telemedicine exams will be offered free of charge.

Since opening its doors less than two years ago, the TBCAC has helped more than 270 children in the Grand Traverse region – 104 last year alone.

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