Computer System Could Alert Docs to Domestic Abuse

Women who checked off specific categories could then be assessed, experts say

THURSDAY, May 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Women seen in emergency care are often reluctant to report any risk or incident of domestic violence.

But a new U.S. study finds that a computer-based screening program may help encourage these women to discuss the issue with ER health workers.

The computer program used in the study asked women questions about a number of health risks, including eight questions that focused on domestic violence. If a woman gave a "yes" response to any of those eight questions, the computer program printed out an alert that was then stapled to the patient's chart. The alert prompted a doctor or nurse practitioner to assess the woman for signs of domestic abuse.

The University of Chicago study, reported in the May 22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, included more than 800 women at an urban and a suburban hospital emergency department (ED). The women were randomly selected to complete the computer-based risk assessment or to receive usual care.

Women who completed the computer screening were more likely to talk to a doctor or nurse practitioner about domestic violence and twice as likely to disclose domestic violence than women who received standard care, the study found.

In the urban ED, 56 percent of women who completed the computer screening discussed domestic violence with their clinician, compared to 45 percent of women who received usual care. Women who did the computer survey were also more likely to disclose their own domestic violence situations (14 percent vs. 8 percent), or to receive care or referrals for domestic violence (8 percent vs. 4 percent).

In the suburban ED, women were overall much less likely to discuss domestic violence (11 percent in the computer screening group and 9 percent in the standard care group), or to disclose domestic violence (5 percent in both groups).

"Domestic violence is a highly prevalent condition, but detection in the ED remains elusive," the study authors wrote. "We found that female patients will disclose their domestic violence risk to a computer. Our study both supports the potential for computer screening to increase identification and referral for domestic violence."

More information

The American College of Emergency Physicians has more about domestic violence.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, May 22, 2006
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