ISMA member and Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan, M.D., became concerned when a pilot study revealed that health professionals were not fulfilling their duty to report child abuse. So, she decided to replicate the research in her county. As a result, she believes the barriers identified by the study will empower all Indiana physicians to help children who may be abused.
“Our goal was to identify ways to assist in minimizing the lack of reporting by mandated reporters of suspected child abuse,” noted Dr. McMahan. “My biggest surprise was learning that only a quarter of the respondents knew to call the child abuse hotline.”
Of the study’s 202 participants, 63 percent were nurses and 26 percent were physicians. The mean age was 45 years old and more than 70 percent had been in practice more than five years.
The need for education
“Another interesting phenomenon of the study was that respondents said they would report suspected cases to CPS but not talk to the caregiver,” commented Dr. McMahan. “Physicians are not trained to have difficult conversations, even though it’s part of our jobs.”
The data also showed that providers are 10 times more likely to report if they are formally trained in identifying child abuse.
“Physicians don’t have to make a determination on a case,” explained Dr. McMahan. “They just have to be suspicious and raise the yellow flag. Even based on this study, doctors think they have to be certain. Well, when you think a patient has colon cancer, you just need a suspicion to send that patient to a specialist to make the final determination. Likewise, in cases of child abuse, CPS makes the final determination.”
As a result of Dr. McMahan’s study, Fen-Lei Chang, M.D.,Ph.D., associate dean and director of the IU School of Medicine-Fort Wayne, committed to build additional training into the school’s curriculum on difficult conversations with patients.
Further, the study is being used to support the efforts of Roberta Hibbard, M.D., director of the IU Child Protection Program, in developing online continuing medical education to help physicians recognize and report child abuse.
Find the full report here.
You have a duty to report child abuse
Indiana law requires everyone who suspects child abuse to report it either to police or the local Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) office. If you don’t you could be subject to a Class B misdemeanor – a penalty resulting in a jail term of up to 180 days and a fine of up to $1,000. You also could be found liable for medical malpractice. Call the DCS hotline number at (800) 800-5556.
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