Overdiagnosis of Child Abuse

Michael Laposata MD, PhD

Michael Laposata MD, PhD

December 2008

Q&A Archive


More than 1,200 U.S. children are diagnosed each year with Shaken Baby Syndrome, and one in four of those children die from it. The diagnosis can be paralyzing for families, but in some cases, doctors may be wrong.

An incorrect diagnosis of child abuse, and even shaken baby syndrome, can occur in children suffering minor accidental trauma who also have undiagnosed bleeding disorders.

“When it comes to prosecuting child abuse cases in children who are bruised, there is often insufficient evaluation for a bleeding disorder in the bruised child,” notes Michael Laposata, MD, PhD, pathologist-in-chief at Vanderbilt University Hospital. “Child abuse is one explanation when children show up with bruises, but medical explanations for the injuries are often overlooked.”

Dr. Laposata said bruising, bone fractures and apparent scalds may be the result of medical disorders and not abuse. In this presentation, Dr. Laposata lays out the rationale for why in cases of potential Shaken Baby Syndrome, the medical community should perform a whole battery of blood tests rather than performing the simplest or most common tests to be absolutely certain of whether there's been child abuse.




Michael Laposata, MD, PhD, is executive vice chair and director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine for the Department of Pathology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He also serves as medical director of Clinical Laboratories and chief of Pathology Services at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

He served previously as professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and is credited with establishing the Division of Laboratory Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, a program that rose to national prominence under his leadership.

Dr. Laposata earned his medical and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and completed postdoctoral training and residency in laboratory medicine at Washington University and Barnes Hospital. He held a faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania before being recruited to Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

His clinical expertise is in the field of blood coagulation, with special expertise in hypercoagulable states.

Boston Magazine included him in its annual list of Best Doctors for his clinical expertise with coagulation disorders. His research focuses on understanding the basis of fatty acid alterations in cystic fibrosis with the ultimate goal of identifying fatty acid replacement therapies.

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