EMR alert may help physicians screen children for physical abuse, study suggests

A team of researchers from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC developed an EMR-based alert system to improve rates of screening for physical abuse among pediatric patients, according to a study published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

To develop the child physical abuse alert system, the researchers coded 30 age-specific "triggers" into the EMR at a freestanding pediatric hospital with a level 1 trauma center. These triggers would identify children under 2 years of age who were at risk for physical abuse.

Between October 2014 and April 2015, the system flagged 226 children as being at risk for physical abuse. The system ran in "silent mode" in the background of the EMR, meaning that while physicians were unaware of the system, study personnel received data on children who triggered an alert.

The system's sensitivity was 96.8 percent and its specificity was 98.5 percent for identifying children younger than 2 years of age with signs of probable or definite physical abuse, according to the study authors.

"Triggers embedded into the electronic medical record can identify young children with who need to be evaluated for physical abuse with high sensitivity and specificity," they concluded, adding the system may improve early identification of physical abuse among children.

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