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Speaking Out About Domestic Violence


Drs Gary Quick, Theodore Ruff, and Pam Wilson’s “What’s Wrong With ThisPicture?” case of a woman with splenic laceration resulting from an assault by amale friend (CONSULTANT, May 2002, page 714) seems to have missed the“elephant in the living room.”

Drs Gary Quick, Theodore Ruff, and Pam Wilson's "What's Wrong With ThisPicture?" case of a woman with splenic laceration resulting from an assault by amale friend (CONSULTANT, May 2002, page 714) seems to have missed the"elephant in the living room." The description of the hospital course and follow-upprovides a comprehensive guide to care for an injured spleen; however, the issue of domestic violence isnot addressed.An estimated 5% to 14% of American women are currently in abusive relationships.1 Domestic violence leads to significant health problems both for those who experience the abuse and for their children.2-4 Through routine screening and intervention, health care providers can help reduce the incidenceof this common and serious problem--and possibly save lives.How best to address domestic violence? Here is an approach:First, show support with a nonjudgmental statement such as, "I am glad you told me. You are notalone, help is available."5Second, find out about immediate safety. Is it safe for the patient to go home?Third, offer information about advocacy services and emergency shelters and/or a follow-up appointmentwith a social worker or mental health professional.Finally, document the incident in the medical record, including photographs of injuries whenever possible.There are many excellent resources for clinicians.6,7 Information is also available on activities toaddress domestic violence that involve the entire health care community.8-11-- Krista Kotz, PhD, MPH
   Orinda, Calif
-- Brigid McCaw, MD, MS, MPH
   Oakland, Calif

We thank Drs Kotz and McCaw for highlighting the important issue of domesticviolence. Although the focus of our presentation was the diagnosis and nonoperativemanagement of splenic injuries, we perhaps should have indicated in asentence or two that the domestic violence involved in the case was addressed.However, a detailed discussion of issues that might affect legal actions or patientsafety is not appropriate in an article in which the physicians and hospital are specifically identified.More than 2 years ago, the Oklahoma State Health Department designated domestic violenceas a reportable incident. This status requires that physicians ask all female patients over the age of 18 years about domestic violence when they present to the emergency department (ED), and thatphysicians report cases in accordance with the Health Department protocol.Once a patient has been identified as a possible victim of domestic violence, various actions follow,depending on the patient's circumstances. Names of shelters and other resources or contactsmay be secretly slipped to the patient on a commonplace item, such as an emery board, name tag,or key ring. The ED nurse or physician attempts to interview the patient without the presumed perpetratorof violence present. Offers to contact a "safe house" or shelter may be made. Sometimesa case worker is called to the ED.We follow extant protocols for all of our patients in the ED as part of standard patient care.Domestic violence is a blot on our society and must be addressed at every opportunity.
-- Gary Quick, MD
   Department of Emergency Medicine
   Oklahoma Heart Hospital
   Oklahoma City
-- Theodore Ruff, MD
   General Surgeon
   Midwest Regional Medical Center
   Midwest City, Okla
-- Pam Wilson, DO
   Midwest Regional Medical Center
   Midwest City, Okla




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McCaw B, Berman WH, Syme SL, Hunkeler EF. Beyond screening for domestic violence: a systems model approach in a managedcare setting.

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Larkin GL, Rolniak S, Hyman KB, et al. Effect of an administrative intervention on rates of screening for domestic violence in anurban emergency department.

Am J Public Health. 2000;90:1444-1448.



Swenson-Britt E, Thornton JE, Hoppe SK, Brackley MH. A continuous improvement process for health providers of victims of domesticviolence.

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