Applied Evidence

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

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Our IPASSPRT interview script (http://bit.ly/ipassprt) outlines how this information can be presented to patients as a typical part of the screening process. Providers are encouraged to share and review the information from the fact sheet with all patients and present it as part of the normal screening process to mitigate the potential for defensiveness on the part of the patient. For patients who screen positive for IPV, it might be important to brainstorm ideas for a safe, secure place to store this fact sheet and other resources from the brief intervention and referral process below (eg, a safety plan and specific referral information) so that the patient can access them quickly and easily, if needed.

For patients who screen negative for IPV, their screen and interview conclude at this point.

  • Provide recommendations based on the screen. Evidence suggests that collaborating with the patient on safety planning and referral can increase the likelihood of their engagement.7 Furthermore, failure to tailor the referral to the needs of the patient can be detrimental36—ie, overshooting the level of intervention might decrease the patient’s future treatment-seeking behavior and undermine their internal coping strategies, increasing the likelihood of future victimization. For that reason, we provide the following guidance on navigating the referral process for patients who screen positive for IPV.

Screening-based referral: A delicate and collaborative process

Referral for IPV victimization. Individual counseling, with or without an IPV focus, might be appropriate for patients at lower levels of risk; immediate connection with local IPV resources is strongly encouraged for patients at higher risk. This is a delicate, collaborative process, in which the physician offers recommendations for referral commensurate to the patient’s risk but must, ultimately, respect the patient’s autonomy by identifying referrals that fit the patient’s goals. We encourage providers to provide risk-informed recommendations and to elicit the patient’s thoughts about that information.

Several online resources are available to help physicians locate and connect with IPV-related resources in their community, including the National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence (http://ipvhealth.org/), which provides a step-by-step guide to making such connections. We encourage physicians to develop these collaborative partnerships early to facilitate warm handoffs and increase the likelihood that a patient will follow through with the referral after screening.37

Referral for related concerns. As we’ve noted, IPV has numerous physical and mental health consequences, including depression, low self-esteem, trauma- and non-trauma-related anxiety, and substance abuse. In general, cognitive behavioral therapies appear most efficacious for treating these IPV-related consequences, but evidence is limited that such interventions diminish the likelihood of re-victimization.38 Intervention programs that foster problem-solving, solution-seeking, and cognitive restructuring for self-critical thoughts and misconceptions seem to produce the best physical and mental health outcomes.39 For patients who have a substance use disorder, treatment programs that target substance use have demonstrated a reduction in the rate of IPV recidivism.40 These findings indicate that establishing multiple treatment targets might reduce the risk for future aggression in relationships.

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