Hymel and colleagues continue to refine tool for diagnosing pediatric abusive head traumas

A head and shoulders professional portrait of Kent Hymel against a background image of Penn State Health Children's Hospital.Dr. Kent Hymel

Penn State College of Medicine researchers are working to improve the process for diagnosing abusive head trauma (AHT) in children, which is the leading cause of traumatic death and disability in infants and young children in the United States.

March 15, 2022Penn State College of Medicine News

The ability to accurately diagnose suspected child abuse is crucial. An incorrect diagnosis could possibly lead to traumatic family separations and questionable criminal charges or result in the return of a child to an abusive situation.

Dr. Kent Hymel, professor of pediatrics and Social Science Research Institute faculty member, and his colleagues in the Pediatric Brain Injury Research Network have developed a clinical decision rule (CDR) that physicians can use to help confirm, exclude and report suspected AHT.

In a study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, they examined the records of more than 900 acutely head-injured children under the age of three years who were hospitalized in intensive care units.

Hymel and his team found that application of the simplified three variable clinical decision rule facilitated detection of AHT with increased accuracy and fewer false positives in pediatric intensive care settings.

“There is no gold standard for diagnosing AHT, so our goal is to reduce cases of missed or misdiagnosed AHT,” said Hymel, who is also a child abuse pediatrician at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. “We were pleasantly surprised to find that the simplified three variable CDR performed with greater overall accuracy than the four variable screening tool and eliminated more false positives. By casting a smaller net more accurately, it helps to eliminate family stress due to a child abuse misdiagnosis.”

Read more about this research on Penn State News

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