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September 1985

The Mistaken Diagnosis of Child Abuse: A Form of Medical Abuse?

Author Affiliations

From the Institute of Forensic Medicine, Office of the Medical Examiner of Cook County, Chicago.

Am J Dis Child. 1985;139(9):873-875. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1985.02140110027022

• The suspected diagnosis of child abuse may prove to be unfounded. Reports in the literature have focused on unusual diseases and folk medicine practices that may mimic abuse. We report ten cases where allegations of abuse were lodged against parents because the treating physicians in the emergency room mistook life-threatening Illness or postmortem artifacts for Inflicted injury. In all cases the families were from the inner city, and with two exceptions the involved institutions were small hospitals without pediatric personnel present in the emergency department. Although the histories related by the parents were in all cases truthful and consistent with the results of physical examinations of the child, the involved physicians failed to make a correct diagnosis. Not only a lack of experience with severe childhood illness and death but also an attitude of suspicion and/or hostility probably contributed to these misdiagnoses.

(AJDC 1985;139:873-875)