Standardization in tools and documentation of child abuse and intimate partner violence have proven helpful in completely documenting injuries and suspected abuse among these populations. Similar tools do not yet exist for older adults and elder abuse.
To (1) use insights from experts to develop a tool to assist clinicians in appropriately and completely documenting physical findings in injured older adults for potential future forensic investigation of abuse or neglect and (2) to assess the feasibility of incorporating this tool into clinical practice.
Two-phase, exploratory qualitative study. Phase 1: individual interviews with elder abuse experts from various specialties in medicine and criminal justice. Phase 2: focus groups with anticipated end users of the tool.
Phase 1 telephone-based key informant interviews were conducted with 11 elder abuse experts (2 detectives, 3 prosecutors, 1 forensic pathologist, 2 geriatricians, and 3 emergency medicine physicians). Phase 2 focus groups were conducted among emergency medicine (n = 10) and primary care (n = 8) providers.
Key informant interviews were conducted telephonically while the two focus groups were held in-person at an emergency medicine site in New York, NY, and a primary care site in Los Angeles, CA.
Experts agreed that medical providers’ documentation of geriatric injuries is usually inadequate for investigating alleged elder abuse/neglect. They highlighted elements needed for forensic investigation: initial appearance before treatment is initiated, complete head-to-toe evaluation, documentation of all injuries (even minor ones), and documentation of pertinent negatives. Several noted the value of photographs to supplement written documentation. End users identified practical challenges to utilizing a tool, including the burden of additional or parallel documentation in a busy clinical setting, and how to integrate it into existing electronic medical records.
A practical tool to improve medical documentation of geriatric injuries for potential forensic use would be valuable. Practical challenges to utilization must be overcome.