Penn researcher uses computer-based screening to help identify domestic violence victims

May 23, 2006

(Philadelphia, PA) - Although victims of domestic violence frequently seek out care in hospital emergency departments, the abuse is rarely identified by department staff and the issue is often not broached. Experts attribute this to clinicians who are reluctant to discuss this sensitive topic, combined with the time constraints faced by the staff.

Now, a new study indicates that the use of a simple and inexpensive computer-based questionnaire increases the odds, but did not guarantee that domestic violence would be addressed during emergency department encounters. Results of the study are published in the May 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Victims of domestic violence are often eager and willing to talk about the issue with a healthcare provider but are reluctant to bring it up first," says Karin Rhodes, MD, Emergency Medicine physician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study.

"Previous studies indicate that patients are more likely to disclose sensitive information, including experiences with domestic violence, on computer-based screenings than on paper surveys or in personal interviews," she says.

To further test these findings, Rhodes and her colleagues set up a computer screening program in two emergency departments, one urban and one suburban. Over a 19-month period, 903 women were randomly selected to either complete the computer-based risk assessment or receive standard care.

The computer program asked questions about a variety of health risks, including eight that addressed domestic violence. If a woman responded positively to any of the eight questions, an alert advising the physician to assess her for domestic violence appeared on a printout that was then stapled to the patient's chart.

Participants were audiotaped during their interactions with physicians and completed an exit questionnaire. Researchers later reviewed the tapes to determine if domestic violence was discussed, disclosed, or treated during each encounter.

Of the women who completed the exit questionnaire, 26 percent at the urban ED and 21 percent at the suburban ED indicated they were at risk for domestic violence. Those who completed the computer screening were more likely to talk to a physician or nurse practitioner about domestic violence and twice as likely to disclose domestic violence during the ED visit as those who received standard care.

In the urban ED, women who completed the computer survey were more likely than those who received routine care to discuss domestic violence with their clinician, disclose their own domestic violence situations or receive care or referrals for domestic violence. Women at the suburban site were much less likely to discuss or disclose domestic violence.

At both sites, only 48 percent of the women (17 percent in the suburban ED and 61 percent in the urban ED) whose computer surveys generated an alert for the physician had a discussion about domestic violence during their visit.

"This shows how much reluctance there is among clinicians to discuss this issue with patients," says Rhodes. "Even when a red flag went up on the computer screening, it still didn't guarantee that the clinician would discuss it with the patient."

Although domestic violence is a highly prevalent condition, detection in the ED remains elusive, the study authors conclude.

"Our current system provides no mechanism for women to reveal domestic abuse," says Rhodes. "We found that women will disclose their domestic violence risk to a computer, however.

"Our study both supports the potential for computer screening to increase identification and referral for domestic violence and raises the concern that ED physicians, particularly suburban physicians, may need additional training to adequately recognize and respond to chronic, complex psychosocial issues."

The study also found that when a clinician followed-up on a computer prompt and discussed domestic violence with a patient, that patient's satisfaction with her visit increased.
Editor's Note: This project was funded by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Rhodes is also supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md.

PENN Medicine is a $2.9 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #3 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals [Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which is consistently ranked one of the nation's few "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center]; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Related Domestic Violence Articles from Brightsurf:

As domestic violence spikes, many victims and their children have nowhere to live
COVID-19 has left many victims of domestic violence facing difficulties feeding their children and accessing services for safe housing, transportation and childcare once they leave shelters, according to a Rutgers study published in the journal Violence Against Women.

New study shows increase in domestic violence injuries during COVID-19
There was a higher incidence and severity of physical intimate partner violence (IPV) among patients seen at a large, academic medical center in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the prior three years, according to a new study.

Domestic violence increased in the great recession
Researchers found that physical abuse in adults increased substantially, with Black and Native American people being disproportionately affected.

Mothering in domestic violence: Protecting children behind closed doors
As emerging data shows an alarming rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, researchers at the University of South Australia are urging practitioners to look beyond clinical observations and focus on the strengths that mothers exercise to protect their children from domestic abuse.

Training family doctors to better support domestic violence survivors
Women who are experiencing domestic violence feel better supported, more confident and less depressed when they are counselled by trained family doctors, according to new research.

Domestic violence reduces likelihood of mothers breastfeeding in developing countries
Mothers who have suffered from domestic violence are substantially less likely to follow recommended breastfeeding practices in low to middle-income countries, a new study shows.

Treatment for sexual and domestic violence offenders does work
A first-of-its-kind meta-study has found that specialised psychological programmes for sexual and domestic violence offenders have led to major reductions in reoffending but best results are achieved with consistent input from a qualified psychologist.

Study: Brain injury common in domestic violence
Domestic violence survivors commonly suffer repeated blows to the head and strangulation, trauma that has lasting effects that should be widely recognized by advocates, health care providers, law enforcement and others who are in a position to help, according to the authors of a new study.

Dentists can be the first line of defense against domestic violence
New findings indicate that oral biomarkers may help health providers identify victims of domestic violence.

Radiologists can help identify victims of domestic violence
Radiologists may play a crucial role in identifying signs of intimate partner violence, a type of domestic violence, according to a new study.

Read More: Domestic Violence News and Domestic Violence Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to