While health care providers play an essential role in identifying and responding to domestic violence, many clinicians aren’t sure how to handle a disclosure of abuse, the Office on Women’s Health reports.
Domestic or intimate partner violence includes physical, sexual, or psychological harm caused by a current or former partner or spouse. Domestic violence is about power and control, and doesn’t discriminate, affecting people of all cultures, religions, genders, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds, and income levels. The majority of domestic violence victims, however, are women.
The following signs are worth noting, because they may indicate possible domestic abuse, according to a report published by the Family Violence Prevention Fund on identifying and responding to domestic violence victimization in health care settings. The patient:
- Has unexplained injuries or injuries inconsistent with the reported history
- Delays medical treatment after an injury has occurred
- Is secretive or obviously uncomfortable when interviewed about the relationship
- Is accompanied into the examining room with a partner who is overly solicitous and won’t leave the patient alone with the provider
- Returns often with vague complaints
- Has an unusually high number of visits with health care providers
- Doesn’t keep medical appointments or comply with treatment
- Has had a physical injury during pregnancy
A fact sheet published by the Office on Women’s Health (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) in October, 2013, points out that to conduct a screening, the clinician does not need to be an expert on this type of violence. It recommends that, as part of the screening, the clinician can provide brief counseling to 1) encourage the patient’s safety; 2) discuss any possible links between current or previous violence and the person’s health concerns; and 3) connect the patient to support services and domestic violence resources.
Some resources that you and your patients may find helpful include:
Harvard Pilgrim’s behavioral health provider, Optum/United Behavioral Health (Optum/UBH), is available to support you and your patients, as well.
How Optum/UBH can help your patients—For complex clinical situations, Optum/UBH is available to provide consultative assistance. Practitioners can call the Optum/UBH Physicians Consultation Service at (800) 292-2922. To refer a patient for behavioral health services and to facilitate the coordination of care, call Optum/UBH at (888) 777-4742.