Applied Evidence

It’s time to start asking all patients about intimate partner violence

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These tools can facilitate screening for IPV

Physicians might have reservations asking about IPV because of 1) concern whether there is sufficient time during an office visit to interview, screen, and refer, 2) feelings of powerlessness to stop violence by or toward a patient, and 3) general discomfort with the topic.22 Additionally, mandated reporting laws regarding IPV vary by state, making it crucial to know one’s own state laws on this issue to protect the safety of the patient and those around them.

Screening increases the likelihood of engaging the patient in supportive services, thus decreasing the isolation that is typical of abuse.

Research has shown that some patients prefer that their health care providers ask about relationship violence directly23; others are more willing to acknowledge IPV if asked using a paper-and-pencil measure, rather than face-to-face questions.24 Either way, screening increases the likelihood of engaging the patient in supportive services, thus decreasing the isolation that is typical of abuse.25 Based on this research, screening that utilizes face-valid items embedded within paperwork completed in the waiting room is recommended as an important first step toward identifying and helping patients who are experiencing IPV. Even under these conditions, however, heterosexual men and sexual minorities might be less willing than heterosexual women to admit experiencing IPV.26,27

A brief vignette that depicts how quickly the screening and referral process can be applied is presented in “IPV screening and referral: A real-world vignette." The vignette is a de-identified composite of heterosexual men experiencing IPV whom we have counseled.

IPV screening and referral: A real-world vignette

Physician: Before we wrap up: I noticed on your screening that you have been hurt and threatened a fair amount in the past year. Would it be OK if we spoke about that more?

Patient: My wife is emotional. Sometimes she gets really stressed out and just starts screaming and punching me. That’s just how she is.

Physician: Do you ever feel concerned for your safety?

Patient: Not really. She’s smaller than me and I can generally calm her down. I keep the guns locked up, so she can’t grab those any more. Mostly she just screams at me.

Physician: This may or may not fit with your perception but, based on what you are reporting, your relationship is what is called “at risk”—meaning you are at risk for having your physical or mental health negatively impacted. This actually happens to a lot of men, and there’s a brochure I can give you that has a lot more information about the risks and consequences of being hurt or threatened by a partner. Would you be willing to take a look at it?

Patient: I guess so.

Physician: OK. I’ll have the nurse bring you that brochure, and we can talk more about it next time you come in for an appointment. Would it be OK if we get you back in here 6 months from now?

Patient: Yeah, that could work.

Physician: Great. Let’s do that. Don’t hesitate to give me a call if your situation changes in any way in the meantime.

One model that provides a useful framework for IPV assessment is the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model, which was developed to facilitate assessment of, and referral for, substance abuse—another heavily stigmatized health care problem. The SBIRT approach for substance abuse screening is associated with significant reduction in alcohol and drug abuse 6 months postintervention, as well as improvements in well-being, mental health, and functioning across gender, race and ethnicity, and age.28

IPASSPRT. Inspired by the SBIRT model for substance abuse, we created the Intimate Partner Aggression Screening, Safety Planning, and Referral to Treatment, or IPASSPRT (spoken as “i-passport”) project to provide tools that make IPV screening and referral accessible to a range of health care providers. These tools include a script and safety plan that guide providers through screening, safety planning, and referral in a manner that is collaborative and grounded in the spirit of motivational interviewing. We have made these tools available on the Web for ease of distribution (; open by linking through “IPASSPRT-Script”).

Continue to: The IPASSPRT script appears lengthy...

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