Describing visible acute injuries: development of a comprehensive taxonomy for research and practice

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Abstract

Background

Little literature exists classifying and comprehensively describing intentional and unintentional acute injuries, which would be valuable for research and practice. In preparation for a study of injury patterns in elder abuse, our goal was to develop a comprehensive taxonomy of relevant types and characteristics of visible acute injuries and evaluate it in geriatric patients.

Methods

We conducted an exhaustive review of the medical and forensic literature focusing on injury types, descriptions, patterns and analyses. We then prepared iteratively, through consensus with a multidisciplinary, national panel of elder abuse experts, a comprehensive classification system to describe these injuries.

Results

We designed a three-step process to fully describe and classify visible acute injuries: (1) determining the type of injury, (2) assigning values to each of the characteristics common to all geriatric injuries and (3) assigning values to additional characteristics relevant for specific injuries. We identified nine unique types of visible injury and seven characteristics critical to describe all these injuries, including body region(s) and precise anatomic location(s). For each injury type, we identified two to seven additional critical characteristics, such as size, shape and cleanliness. We pilot tested it on 323 injuries on 83 physical elder abuse victims and 45 unintentional fall victims from our ongoing research to ensure that it would allow for the complete and accurate description of the full spectrum of visible injuries encountered and made modifications and refinements based on this experience. We then used the classification system to evaluate 947 injuries on 80 physical elder abuse victims and 195 unintentional fall victims to assess its practical utility.

Conclusions

Our comprehensive injury taxonomy systematically integrates and expands on existing forensic and clinical research. This new classification system may help standardise description of acute injuries and patterns among clinicians and researchers.

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