Women of childbearing age should be screened for domestic abuse and intimate partner violence while visiting their doctor.

The recommendation came from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The new suggestion represents a considerable change from 2004 when the USPSTF found inadequate proof to advocate screenings for intimate partner violence (IPV).

The task force currently supports screening after examining new research which revealed that asking women a list of standard questions showed a “moderate net benefit” and that there were little risks linked to uncovering abuse.

The recommendation also states that if the patients have been abused, they should be referred to intervention services, which may include:

  • home visits
  • counseling
  • information cards
  • mentor programs
  • community service referrals

The guidelines are only meant to be applied to females between the ages of 14 and 46 when no clear indicators of physical or sexual abuse are evident.

The authors explained that the females of childbearing age were not the only subjects who experienced abuse from past or present intimate partners, however, there was not enough proof to propose wider screenings.

Dr. David Grossman, a Seattle pediatrician and task force member, said:

“The bottom line is that more research is needed on how primary-care clinicians can effectively screen and protect all populations, including older and vulnerable adults, middle-aged women, men and children from abuse and violence.”

IPV screenings look for:

  • sexual abuse
  • physical violence
  • pyschological abuse
  • stalking
  • reproductive coercion

About 31% of females and 26% of males have been affected by IPV at some point in their life, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). A previous study found that intimate partner violence is two times more likely to happen in households where both partners work, as opposed to only one partner working.

Health outcomes from IPV include:

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists currently suggest screening for domestic abuse for patients of all ages.

Although other organizations, such as the American Medical Association, do not suggest a particular way of screening, they do prompt doctors to ask about abuse to all patients while inquiring about medical history.

Organizations may now embrace a more systematized protocol because of this new suggestion by the task force, some physicians believe.

Eric Ferrero, a Planned Parenthood spokesman, not involved in the study, said:

“This is very significant. It’s just good practice to know a patient’s health history, and we have been conducting screenings for a number of years. Hopefully, with this recommendation, it will be done more broadly.”

Planned Parenthood gives medical care to an estimated 3 million people among 800 sites. When people receive screening for IPV, it is sometimes the first time that patients recognize abuse or even mention it, he added.

“We know, at least anecdotally, that this first discussion has led some women to leave an abusive relationship,” Ferrero explained.

The USPSTF suggestion came from an analysis of several reports and interrogations with over 30,000 individuals. The experts conducted screenings in a variety of ways. For example, some females received face to face interviews by their doctor and others completed self-screenings, such as filling out a questionnaire on a computer or answering printed questions.

Written by Sarah Glynn