Computer survey alerts doctors to abuse

 
By HSC Staff Writer • Published: September 8th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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About one out of three American women face some form of domestic abuse during their lifetime. And the emergency room is where the vast majority of home violence cases are uncovered. But victims are often reluctant to report abuse to health-care providers.

Now a recent study reveals that when it comes to disclosing abuse, more women feel comfortable reporting problems to a computer, instead of to emergency department caregivers.

The study, recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, involved more than eight-hundred patients at one suburban and one urban emergency care center. Participants were randomly selected to either receive standard care or to take a computer survey that inquired about several health risks. Included in the survey were eight questions that screened for domestic abuse. When a woman volunteered a “yes” response to any of the eight abuse questions, the computer program printed out an alert message, which was then attached to the patient’s chart.

Patients who filled out the computer questionnaire were more inclined to discuss domestic abuse with a nurse practitioner or physician. These women were also more than twice as likely to reveal that they’d been victims of abuse than patients who received usual care only.

Women seen in urban emergency departments were far more likely overall to discuss domestic violence than those treated at suburban clinics. Regardless, the study showed the potential that computer surveys can have for breaking the ice on this serious issue.