Recently I went to the hospital for an outpatient procedure and during the routine questioning the nurse asked me “Are you currently being abused or fear for your life at home?” I was taken aback at first and I answered her “no”. I told her I am a writer on the subject of domestic violence and offered my business card. She informed me that in the state of Ohio (where I live) it is now mandatory for nurses and physicians to ask this question of their patients. I also discovered through some research that nearly 25% of all hospital and doctor visits are the result of current or past abuse.
By asking this question and others, doctors and nurses can help abused women come forward about what they are going through at home. In the November 6, 2007 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, a study was published discussing the topic of doctor/patient tackling abuse in the emergency room. The study included listening to audiotapes recorded during the interview process of when a woman was being admitted to the emergency room. If the question was asked in an open ended way, many women came right out and told the doctor or nurse what was going on. Usually the abuse was the reason why the woman was visiting the emergency room.
If you admit to a doctor that you are being abused or you fear for your safety once you leave the hospital, what will he/she do? I asked this of the nurse I spoke with. She said it depends on the situation. If the abuser is there with you, you have the option of having the police called and pressing charges on them. The nurse said if you are there with broken bones and bruises as a result of a violent episode, pictures will be taken if you request them. This can help you in the future if you seek a divorce or file charges against an abuser. Doctors and nurses are there to help you. They can give you referrals to women’s shelters or emergency help if you need to get away in the future.
Not all states and hospitals require this type of screening though. More research is being done on the impact of doctors stepping up to identify victims of domestic violence. How many lives can be saved by asking this simple question? Yes, oftentimes when an injured abuse victim comes to the emergency room the abuser accompanies them, if a doctor suspects domestic violence, the abuser can be asked to leave the examining room. It is estimated that there are 73,000 hospitalizations each year due to domestic violence and around 1,500 deaths each year. Could some or most of these been prevented if someone stepped up for the victims when the victims could not and put an end to the abuse?