Diagnosis of Child Maltreatment: A Family Medicine Physician’s Dilemma

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Cases of child maltreatment (CM) in the United States remain high, and primary care providers lack the confidence and training to diagnose these cases. This study provides recommendations to improve family medicine physicians’ confidence in diagnosing CM.


We e-mailed an electronic survey to family medicine residents and physicians practicing in the United States. Responses were collected during August and September 2015. Respondents were asked about their familiarity and competence level regarding the diagnosis of CM. They also were asked about the frequency of their correctly diagnosing CM, timeliness of diagnosis, barriers to a diagnosis or early diagnosis of CM, and receipt of adequate CM training.


Of the 420 surveys emailed, 258 (61%) were completed. The majority of respondents stated their self-reported level of competence in diagnosing CM as average or below average, with few (8%) indicating a competence level of above average. A timely diagnosis of child maltreatment was reported by 46% of respondents, whereas 54% were either late (19.2%) in diagnosing or could not recall (34.6%). The barriers to diagnosis cited by responders were inexperience (58%), lack of confidence and certainty (50%), lack of diagnosis protocol (43.3%), lack of confidence in communicating with parents (38.3%), and inadequate training (34.9%).


The introduction of CM training into the family medicine residency training curriculum, coupled with the development of a standardized CM diagnosis protocol, may improve self-reported family medicine physicians’ confidence and competence levels in diagnosing CM.

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