A new digital health program to provide the expertise of sexual assault nurse examiners to rural hospital emergency departments recently received funding through a $4 million, federal grant to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health & Innovation.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime awarded the three-year grant to the institute for a pilot study of its new Digital Health Sexual Assault Assessment Program.
Using real-time, interactive video consultations with nurse examiners, the program’s goals are to increase access and improve the quality of sexual assault forensic examinations and follow-up services in areas without access to nurse examiners. The program also hopes to expand training and outreach to promote awareness of sexual assault and the availability of sexual assault nurse examiners in rural communities.
“A core value of the program is its ability to better inform law enforcement and the judicial system professionals through the improvements in the examination of sexual assault victims,” said Curtis Lowery, M.D., director of the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. “Doing that will help lead to more successful prosecutions of assailants as well as justice for sexual assault victims. This is yet another example of one of the many new ways digital health technology can be applied to assist in areas it hasn’t before.”
Sexual assault nurse examiners working in the program will assist local emergency departments in collecting forensic evidence, counseling victims, ensuring victim’s continued safety and connecting victims to resources for additional help.
“The program’s final product will be a statewide telehealth sexual assault program in a predominantly rural setting that can be modeled and copied across the United States and used across hospitals, clinics, schools, universities, shelters and crisis centers,” said Tina Benton, B.S.N., the institute’s executive director of development.
UAMS e-Link, the statewide digital health network, will provide protected communications for consultations and for securely sharing images of victims who require transfer to other hospitals for additional medical care.
A program work group will meet to provide guidance on policy, procedures and emerging issues in digital health. It also will work to mobilize new Sexual Assault Response Teams in underserved regions of Arkansas.