Healthy Living

Should Your Doctor Screen for Domestic Violence?

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to cover intimate partner screening

Between 1.3 million and 5.3 million women in the United States experience domestic violence each year and between 22 and 39 percent of women experience abuse at some point in their lives, according to a recent review commissioned by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Because of its effect on individuals, families, employers and productivity, domestic violence is now considered a public health issue.
A good opportunity for health-care providers to screen their patients and do a check for domestic violence screening is during doctor’s appointments. “I absolutely think that universal screening could be helpful; there’s no harm in asking,” says Fern Gilkerson, a health education specialist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Once the patient has been asked about emotional, verbal, psychological, financial or other forms of abuse, if needed, it’s vital that they be referred to an adequate resource. Every state has a domestic violence coalition and programs with advocates to assist women in transition. A woman’s risk of harm is highest when she decides to leave an abusive situation, and because she may depend on her partner for food, shelter and other essentials, it’s crucial that she receive adequate followup after the initial domestic violence screening.
The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance cover domestic violence screening every year, and increasingly more groups are lobbying for this screening, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If this trend continues, perhaps domestic violence screening will become more routine and domestic violence will become less so.

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