Ask women about partner violence, panel says

Mon May 7, 2012 5:06pm EDT
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By Genevra Pittman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Doctors should screen all of their female patients for signs of partner violence, whether face-to-face or through a waiting room questionnaire, a new report suggests.

The review of the current evidence on screening for partner abuse, from researchers at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, is the first step toward new recommendations on screening from the government-sponsored United States Preventive Services Task Force.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to three in 10 U.S. women have experienced rape, stalking or physical violence by a partner. Other studies suggest as many as half of women will experience psychological aggression from an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

In the new analysis, researchers found the possible harms of screening -- such as women feeling uncomfortable or depressed -- are small, and the potential benefits include catching cases of past or current partner violence and referring women for help.

"By even asking a few questions, it sends a message to patients that this is something they can talk about with their doctor," Dr. Heidi Nelson, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.

There's still more that can be learned, for example, about the right questions to ask and the right setting to ask them in to get to the heart of any abuse.

But bringing up the topic may be what's most important, no matter how it's done, said Ping-Hsin Chen, who has studied domestic violence screening at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark.

"As long as we screen for domestic violence, patients will be willing to talk to doctors or medical staff or to answer questions about it," Chen, who wasn't involved in the new report, told Reuters Health.   Continued...