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A technique for spotting bruises on dark skin

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Spotting bruises on dark skin can sometimes be difficult, which limits doctors’ ability to document wounds and testify before court, according to the Tribune agency.

The detection and diagnosis of bruises depends on the naked eye, under normal light, and it is often difficult to see the bruises of victims of violence based on the color of their skin and the age of the injury; Darker-skinned people often find it difficult to properly identify and document their injuries, which has a significant impact on the medical and legal outcomes for victims of violence. To get around this problem, Katherine Scafide, a doctoral forensic pathologist and professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Health and School of Nursing, worked to find a way to change that.

“Often dark-skinned patients come to me with injuries, but I can’t see anything,” Scafide recently told Nurse.org. It is a problem in itself, if you can’t see an injury, you can’t document it, and therefore you can’t testify about it. And she continued: “If you have a dark skin tone, the melanin that contributes to this pigmentation is actually located above where the bruises are in the layers of the skin. So if you have a lot of skin pigmentation, it will be hard to see the bruise.”

In 2020, Scafide compared white light to an alternative light source to see which was more effective at detecting bruises, and discovered that the alternative light source was 5 times better than white light at finding bruises on victims with different skin tones.

An “alternative light source” technique is used to facilitate the identification of bruises. “You may have seen this technique used in crime shows on TV when they shine a light (on the victim’s body) looking for bloodstains or other types of underlying evidence that you can’t see very well,” Scafide added.

The significance of the research, conducted by Scafide, stems from the fact that technology alone is not enough in court without a study proving its effectiveness.

Now that Scafide and her team have provided evidence of the effectiveness of ALLS, they are working on drafting clinical guidelines and training healthcare professionals in its use.

“We hope that in the future alternative light sources will be more accessible, making it easier for forensic pathologists to understand how to use them and how to interpret what they see,” she added. And she concluded by saying: “The interpretation and documentation of what they see is essential, because if the doctor (doctor) misinterprets what she sees, or misdocuments it; This could have a significant impact on the legal and medical consequences, so we want to make sure they are trained and taught how to use it properly.”


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