Applied Evidence

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

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The IPASSPRT script appears lengthy, but progress through its sections is directed by patient need; most patients will not require that all parts be completed. For example, a patient whose screen for IPV is negative and who feels safe in their relationship does not need assessment beyond page 2; on the other hand, the physician might need more information from a patient who is at greater risk for IPV. This response-based progression through the script makes the screening process dynamic, data-driven, and tailored to the patient’s needs—an approach that aids rapport and optimizes the physician’s limited time during the appointment.

In the sections that follow, we describe key components of this script.

What aggression, if any, is present? From whom? The Hurt, Insult, Threaten, and Scream inventory (HITS) (TABLE 2)29 is a widely used screen for IPV that has been validated for use in family medicine. A 4-item scale asks patients to report how often their partner physically hurts, insults, threatens, and screams at them using a 5-point scale (1 point, “never,” to 5 points, “frequently”). Although a score > 10 is indicative of IPV, item-level analysis is encouraged. Attending to which items the patient acknowledges and how often these behaviors occur yields a richer assessment than a summary score. In regard to simply asking a patient, “Do you feel safe at home?” (sensitivity of this question, 8.8%; specificity, 91.2%), the HITS better detects IPV with male and female patient populations in family practice and emergency care settings (sensitivity, 30%-100%; specificity, 86%-99%).27,30

HITS: The Hurt, Insult, Threaten, and Scream Inventory

What contextual factors and related concerns are present? It is important to understand proximal factors that might influence IPV risk to determine what kind of referral or treatment is appropriate—particularly for patients experiencing or engaging in infrequent, noninjurious, and bidirectional forms of IPV. Environmental and contextual stressors, such as financial hardship, unemployment, pregnancy, and discussion of divorce, can increase the risk for IPV.31,32 Situational influences, such as alcohol and drug intoxication, can also increase the risk for IPV. Victims of partner violence are at greater risk for mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, trauma- and stressor-related disorders, and substance use disorders. Risk goes both ways, however: Mental illness predicts subsequent IPV perpetration or victimization, and vice versa.31

Does the patient feel safe? Assessing the situation. Patient perception of safety in the relationship provides important information about the necessity of referral. Asking a patient if they feel unsafe because of the behavior of a current or former partner sheds light on the need for further safety assessment and immediate connection with appropriate resources.

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