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Factors influencing identification of and response to intimate partner violence: a survey of physicians and nurses

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      Intimate partner violence against women (IPV) has been identified as a serious public health problem. Although the health care system is an important site for identification and intervention, there have been challenges in determining how health care professionals can best address this issue in practice. We surveyed nurses and physicians in 2004 regarding their attitudes and behaviours with respect to IPV, including whether they routinely inquire about IPV, as well as potentially relevant barriers, facilitators, experiential, and practice-related factors.


      A modified Dillman Tailored Design approach was used to survey 1000 nurses and 1000 physicians by mail in Ontario, Canada. Respondents were randomly selected from professional directories and represented practice areas pre-identified from the literature as those most likely to care for women at the point of initial IPV disclosure: family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency care, maternal/newborn care, and public health. The survey instrument had a case-based scenario followed by 43 questions asking about behaviours and resources specific to woman abuse.


      In total, 931 questionnaires were returned; 597 by nurses (59.7% response rate) and 328 by physicians (32.8% response rate). Overall, 32% of nurses and 42% of physicians reported routinely initiating the topic of IPV in practice. Principal components analysis identified eight constructs related to whether routine inquiry was conducted: preparedness, self-confidence, professional supports, abuse inquiry, practitioner consequences of asking, comfort following disclosure, practitioner lack of control, and practice pressures. Each construct was analyzed according to a number of related issues, including clinician training and experience with woman abuse, area of practice, and type of health care provider. Preparedness emerged as a key construct related to whether respondents routinely initiated the topic of IPV.


      The present study provides new insight into the factors that facilitate and impede clinicians' decisions to address the issue of IPV with their female patients. Inadequate preparation, both educational and experiential, emerged as a key barrier to routine inquiry, as did the importance of the "real world" pressures associated with the daily context of primary care practice.

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      Most cited references 43

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      Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study.

      This 11-city study sought to identify risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships. Proxies of 220 intimate partner femicide victims identified from police or medical examiner records were interviewed, along with 343 abused control women. Preincident risk factors associated in multivariate analyses with increased risk of intimate partner femicide included perpetrator's access to a gun and previous threat with a weapon, perpetrator's stepchild in the home, and estrangement, especially from a controlling partner. Never living together and prior domestic violence arrest were associated with lowered risks. Significant incident factors included the victim having left for another partner and the perpetrator's use of a gun. Other significant bivariate-level risks included stalking, forced sex, and abuse during pregnancy. There are identifiable risk factors for intimate partner femicides.
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        Intimate partner violence and physical health consequences.

        Domestic violence results in long-term and immediate health problems. This study compared selected physical health problems of abused and never abused women with similar access to health care. A case-control study of enrollees in a multisite metropolitan health maintenance organization sampled 2535 women enrollees aged 21 to 55 years who responded to an invitation to participate; 447 (18%) could not be contacted, 7 (0.3%) were ineligible, and 76 (3%) refused, yielding a sample of 2005. The Abuse Assessment Screen identified women physically and/or sexually abused between January 1, 1989, and December 31, 1997, resulting in 201 cases. The 240 controls were a random sample of never abused women. The general health perceptions subscale of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey measured general health. The Miller Abuse Physical Symptom and Injury Scale measured abuse-specific health problems. Cases and controls differed in ethnicity, marital status, educational level, and income. Direct weights were used to standardize for comparisons. Significance was tested using logistic and negative binomial regressions. Abused women had more (P<.05) headaches, back pain, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal bleeding, vaginal infections, pelvic pain, painful intercourse, urinary tract infections, appetite loss, abdominal pain, and digestive problems. Abused women also had more (P< or =.001) gynecological, chronic stress-related, central nervous system, and total health problems. Abused women have a 50% to 70% increase in gynecological, central nervous system, and stress-related problems, with women sexually and physically abused most likely to report problems. Routine universal screening and sensitive in-depth assessment of women presenting with frequent gynecological, chronic stress-related, or central nervous system complaints are needed to support disclosure of domestic violence.
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          Women exposed to intimate partner violence: expectations and experiences when they encounter health care professionals: a meta-analysis of qualitative studies.

          The appropriate response of health care professionals to intimate partner violence is still a matter of debate. This article reports a meta-analysis of qualitative studies that answers 2 questions: (1) How do women with histories of intimate partner violence perceive the responses of health care professionals? and (2) How do women with histories of intimate partner violence want their health care providers to respond to disclosures of abuse? Multiple databases were searched from their start to July 1, 2004. Searches were complemented with citation tracking and contact with researchers. Inclusion criteria included a qualitative design, women 15 years or older with experience of intimate partner violence, and English language. Two reviewers independently applied criteria and extracted data. Findings from the primary studies were combined using a qualitative meta-analysis. Twenty-nine articles reporting 25 studies (847 participants) were included. The emerging constructs were largely consistent across studies and did not vary by study quality. We ordered constructs by the temporal structure of consultations with health care professionals: before the abuse is discussed, at disclosure, and the immediate and further responses of the health care professional. Key constructs included a wish from women for responses from health care professionals that were nonjudgmental, nondirective, and individually tailored, with an appreciation of the complexity of partner violence. Repeated inquiry about partner violence was seen as appropriate by women who were at later stages of an abusive relationship. Women's perceptions of appropriate and inappropriate responses partly depended on the context of the consultation, their own readiness to address the issue, and the nature of the relationship between the woman and the health care professional.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
            [2 ]Research, Education, Evaluation, and Development Services, Middlesex-London Health Unit, and School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
            [3 ]Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada
            [4 ]Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
            [5 ]Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, and of Pediatrics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
            BMC Public Health
            BMC Public Health
            BioMed Central (London )
            24 January 2007
            : 7
            : 12
            Copyright © 2007 Gutmanis et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Research Article

            Public health


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