Doctors call for domestic violence screening

Jan 26 2012 - 3:18pm

The confirmed high rates of domestic abuse -- or interpersonal violence -- led two major physicians' groups this week to call for routine screening of patients for signs of abuse.

This week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement urging its members to screen women "at periodic intervals" for intimate partner violence. Pregnant women should be screened during prenatal visits, they said.

About 25 percent of U.S. women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a current or former partner, the ACOG report notes. Because OB-GYNs see women during their reproductive years, when rates of abuse against them are the highest, they are in a unique position to intervene, the authors said. Women identified as victims of abuse should be given support, information and referrals.

"We need to start normalizing the conversation about abuse with all of our patients, much like we've done with HIV testing,"Dr. Maureen G. Phipps, chair of the ACOG committee on health care for underserved women, said in a news release. "Many women will not admit to being abused, but bringing up the subject in a caring and straightforward manner over time may encourage them to eventually seek help."

On Wednesday, the American Academy of Neurology also called on its members to screen patients for abuse or violent treatment by family members or caretakers.

More than 90 percent of injuries from intimate partner violence occur to the head, face or neck. Neurologists are in a unique position to assess the cause of these injuries and intervene to offer patients help and resources. Moreover, people with certain neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, are at higher risk for becoming victims of abuse at the hands of caregivers.

"In addition to further physical and emotional harm, consequences of not asking about abuse might include failure of treatments, and when children are exposed to abuse, perpetuation of the cycle of abuse from generation to generation," Dr. Elliott A. Schulman, lead author of the statement and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology said in a news release.

With a combined 80,000 members, the two groups' commitment to screening for interpersonal violence could make a significant effect on the future safety of a lot of vulnerable people.

The ACOG paper appears in the February issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. The AAN paper is published online in Neurology.

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