Providers' Ability to Identify Sentinel Injuries Concerning for Physical Abuse in Infants

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Abstract

Objectives

The objectives of this study were to assess the ability of pediatric health care providers and social workers to recognize sentinel injuries in infants under 6 months of age and to determine what factors influence their decision to evaluate for physical abuse.

Methods

A statewide collaborative focused on sentinel injuries administered a survey to pediatric health care providers and social workers in the emergency department, urgent care, and primary care. The survey contained 8 case scenarios of infants under 6 months of age with an injury, and respondents were asked if they would consider the injury to be a sentinel injury requiring a physical abuse evaluation. Respondents were then presented with several factors and asked how much each influences the decision to perform a physical abuse evaluation.

Results

A total of 565 providers completed the survey. Providers had moderate interrater reliability on their classification of the cases as sentinel injuries or not (κ = 0.57). Nearly all respondents (97%) recognized genital bruising as a sentinel injury, whereas 77% of respondents recognized intraoral injuries. Agreement was highest among social workers (κ = 0.76) and physicians with categorical pediatrics training and pediatric emergency medicine fellowship (κ = 0.63) and lowest among nurse practitioners (κ = 0.48) and residents (κ = 0.51). Concern over missing the diagnosis of abuse had the greatest influence on the decision to perform a physical abuse evaluation.

Conclusions

Sentinel injuries are not uniformly recognized as potential signs of child abuse requiring further evaluation by pediatric health care providers. Additional evidence and education are needed regarding sentinel injuries.

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