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Health professionals debate screening for intimate partner violence

August 4, 2009 |  1:01 pm

Violence Many doctors and hospitals have implemented procedures to screen women for intimate partner violence. The practice, however, is controversial. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force makes no recommendation on screening because of a lack of evidence that it can do much good.

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. concurs with that assessment. Researchers in Canada conducted a study at 11 emergency rooms, 12 family practices and three ob-gyn clinics in Ontario, Canada. The study involved 6,743 women age 18 to 64. Half the women completed an abuse screening tool. If the woman reported past abuse, that information was given to her clinician before the healthcare visit. The other group of women completed the same screening tool but after the healthcare visit. The women were surveyed over a period of 18 months about incidents of violence and quality of life.

The study found no difference in the two groups in incidents of violence, quality of life and use of violence-related health and social services.

"It is certainly understandable that clinicians and health care facilities have implemented universal screening programs, given the prevalence and potential severity of intimate partner violence," doctors from the University of North Carolina wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. "However, the results of this study ... should dispel any illusions that universal screening with passive referrals to community services is an adequate response to violence in intimate relationships."

Perhaps this idea should be tested: Officials at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center and the Passaic County Courthouse in Passaic County, N.J., have launched a joint program that allows victims of intimate partner violence to obtain temporary restraining orders from a judge on the spot. The hospital staff simply connects victims to a judge via teleconferencing. The story is reported today in the Bergen Record.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Dr. James Pruden, director of telemedicine at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center, left, and state family court Judge Richard M. Freid, seen on the monitor, are seen in Paterson, N.J. Domestic violence victims will get treatment and can obtain temporary restraining orders at a New Jersey hospital. The emergency room at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center is linked with the Passaic County Courthouse by video conference. Photo credit: Elizabeth Lara / The Bergen Record / AP photo