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Doctors May Be Able to Predict Domestic Abuse

Analysis of electronic medical records holds the key, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- It may be possible to use a person's electronic medical records to predict the likelihood of domestic abuse years before it actually occurs, according to U.S. researchers.

They analyzed the medical records of more than 500,000 adults that included at least four years of data on hospital admissions and visits to emergency departments. In total, the electronic records included more than 16 million diagnoses.

The researchers developed a scoring system to predict which people were likely to receive a diagnosis of domestic abuse. The system was able to predict future diagnoses of abuse an average of 10 to 30 months in advance, the researchers said.

For women, the risk for future diagnosis of abuse was highest among those treated for injuries, poisoning and alcoholism. Among men, the risk was highest among those treated for mental health conditions such as depression and psychosis.

The researchers also developed a prototype "risk-visualization environment" that offers doctors instant overviews of patients' medical histories and related profiles.

"In conjunction with alerts for high-risk patients, this could enable clinicians to rapidly review and act on all available historical information by identifying important risk factors and long-term trends," wrote Ben Reis, of the Informatics Program at Children's Hospital Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and his research colleagues.

Their findings were published Sept. 30 online in the British Medical Journal.

Domestic abuse is the most common cause of nonfatal injuries among women in the United States, according to the researchers, and accounts for more than half the murders of women each year.

"Doctors typically do not have the time to thoroughly review a patient's historical records during the brief clinical encounter," Reis said in a news release from the journal. "As a result, certain conditions that could otherwise be detected are often missed. One such condition is domestic abuse, which may go unrecognized for years as it is masked by acute complaints that form the basis of clinical encounters."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about domestic violence.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, news release, Sept. 29, 2009

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