Examining diagnostic variability among pediatric subspecialists using case examples of infant head injury.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2023.106371


BACKGROUND: Although there is research regarding the diagnosis and timing of abusive head trauma, there remains practice variation among pediatric subspecialists.

OBJECTIVES: To examine diagnostic variability among pediatric subspecialists using case examples of infant head injury. Secondary objectives were timing variability among subspecialists, and diagnostic and timing variability among Child Abuse Pediatricians (CAPs).

PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Pediatric subspecialists were recruited from Child Abuse Pediatrics, Hospital Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Critical Care, and Neurosurgery to complete a research instrument. Participants qualified for the study if they evaluated at least 1 case of possible abusive head trauma during their career.

METHODS: This multi-institutional, mixed-methods study used a research instrument with 4 case examples of infant head injury: severe retinal hemorrhages (RH), mass-effect subdural hemorrhage (SDH), SDH membrane formation, and sepsis. The response selected by most CAPs was reference and compared across subspecialties and among CAPs using Chi-square or Fisher's exact tests. A Bonferroni correction (p < 0.01) was used for subspecialty comparisons.

RESULTS: There were 288 participants who completed at least 1 case example. Diagnostic variability was observed in all case examples. Significantly fewer Hospital Medicine (34.9 % vs. 57.9 %, p < 0.01), Emergency Medicine (28.0 % vs. 57.9 %, p < 0.0001), and Neurosurgery (24.0 % vs. 57.9 %, p < 0.01) participants selected the reference response for the mass-effect SDH case example. Timing variability was statistically significant for all case examples (p < 0.01). Significantly fewer CAPs aged 44-64 years selected the reference response for timing (p < 0.01) for the severe RH case example.

CONCLUSIONS: Additional peer review processes and consensus guidelines for challenging issues in abusive head trauma may be beneficial.

Journal Title

Child abuse & neglect



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MeSH Keywords

Humans; Infant; Child Abuse; Craniocerebral Trauma; Hematoma, Subdural; Pediatricians; Pediatrics; Retinal Hemorrhage; Retrospective Studies


Abusive head trauma; Diagnostic variability; Timing

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