Penn State’s solution for addressing forensic examiner shortage: Telehealth

Since Cindy Forbes, R.N., became a sexual assault forensic nurse examiner seven years ago, she has been the only specialized examiner in her rural community of Lakeport, California.

“If my victims aren’t getting rape exams here, they aren’t getting rape exams,” said Forbes, an emergency department nurse at Sutter Lakeside Hospital, in a video for the National TeleNursing Center.

Lakeport is not unique.

Nurses that are trained to provide expert care to sexual assault victims are a highly valuable resource—they have specialized training in forensic examination and understand best practices in evidence collection. There are too few of these nurses, called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), nationally and many communities have no access to such expertise.

For hospitals that don’t have forensic nurses, it often falls on ER staff to perform a forensic exam for sexual assault patients. Or patients can travel long distances to a hospital that has a trained examiner on staff.

But Pennsylvania State University has found success addressing this shortage and improving care for sexual assault victims with the help of a technological solution: Telehealth.

“We hear stories all the time from healthcare providers who say that when they go to perform the exam they are opening a forensic kit and reading the instructions on what they are supposed to do. Now imagine as a patient what that experience must be like,” Sheridan Miyamoto, director of the Penn State Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center, told Fierce Healthcare.