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Describing visible acute injuries: development of a comprehensive taxonomy for research and practice
  1. Tony Rosen1,
  2. Christopher Reisig1,2,
  3. Veronica M LoFaso2,
  4. Elizabeth M Bloemen3,
  5. Sunday Clark1,
  6. Thomas J McCarthy1,
  7. Estomih P Mtui4,
  8. Neal E Flomenbaum1,
  9. Mark S Lachs2
  1. 1Division of Emergency Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  2. 2Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  3. 3University of Colorado Medical School, Aurora, Colorado, USA
  4. 4Department of Radiology, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tony Rosen, Division of Emergency Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, 525 East 68th Street, New York, NY 10065, USA; aer2006{at}


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.

  • Methodology

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  • Preliminary results from this work were presented at the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA, 14 May 2015 and at the Annual Scientific Meeting, American Geriatrics Society, National Harbor, MD, 15 May 2015.

  • Contributors TR, CR, VML, EMB, SC, NEF and MSL: study concept and design. TR, CR, VML and EMB: development of preliminary version of taxonomy. TR, CR, VML, EMB, SC, EPM, NEF and MSL: revision of taxonomy through consensus. TR and MSL: recruitment of expert panel. TR, CR, VML, EMB, SC, TJM, EPM, NEF and MSL: incorporation of comments/suggestions/recommended changes from expert panel. TR, CR, VML and EMB: pilot testing of taxonomy. TR, VML, EMB and TJM: post-pilot testing of taxonomy. TR and CR: initial drafting of manuscript. VML, EMB, SC, EPM, TJM, NEF and MSL: revision of manuscript critically for important intellectual content. TR, VML, SC, EPM, NEF and MSL: study supervision.

  • Funding TR's participation was supported by a Grants for Early Medical and Surgical Subspecialists' Transition to Aging Research grant from the National Institute on Aging (R03 AG048109). TR is also the recipient of a Jahnigen Career Development Award, supported by the John A. Hartford Foundation, the American Geriatrics Society, the Emergency Medicine Foundation and the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine. CR's participation was supported by Medical Student Training in Aging Research grant from the American Federation for Aging Research. MSL is the recipient of a mentoring award in patient-oriented research from the National Institute on Aging (K24 AG022399).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.