EMRs May Help Doctors Spot Or Predict Abuse

As the data stored in electronic medical records grow, the technology may be able to help doctors predict domestic abuse and other medical conditions, a new study in the British Medical Journal finds, Reuters reports. Patients with injuries, poisoning and alcoholism were more likely than others to report domestic abuse. "For men, those treated for mental health conditions such as depression and psychosis were the most likely to later also be diagnosed as domestic abuse victims." "The record systems might spot patterns that a busy doctor would miss, [a researcher] said" (Osterman, 9/30).

The researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School analyzed six years of hospital admission and emergency room visits for patients over 18 year old to identify the patterns, the Boston Globe reports. "Our model predicted abuse two years before it appeared on medical records," one of the study's authors, Ben Reis, told The Globe.  Researchers characterized the model as a "screening support system," noting that it would not replace diagnosis by doctors. "Their hope is to bring the wealth of information about a patient to the forefront during a doctor-patient encounter encumbered by competing demands" (Cooney, 9/29).

Physicians, including the researchers, told Wired News that domestic violence is a "hidden epidemic" in part because "abused people actually go to different emergency rooms each time, so [the abuse] is harder to track." The new system uses a single, visual display to indentify diagnoses that are statistically linked to abuse, helping doctors recognize possible abuse even when patients don't disclose it. Infections, for instance, surprised researchers with a strong link to abuse (Joelving, 9/30).

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