Primary Care Physicians are Key Resource for Abused Women in Rural Areas:Study

First Posted: Aug 22, 2014 07:18 AM EDT

Penn State researchers observed that most of the primary care physicians present in rural communities fail to routinely screen women for intimate partner violence (IPV).

The study highlights that rural women who are victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) have extremely limited resources to seek help and it is these primary care physicians who can be the key resource for such women in rural areas.

"Rural health care providers are uniquely positioned to help women," said Jennifer S. McCall-Hosenfeld, a primary care physician and assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences, Penn State College of Medicine. "However, in rural settings, it might be even more important for physicians to step in, because there are few places for women experiencing IPV to turn. The physicians are in a good position to help, and may be the only option for rural women."

In this study, 19 primary care physicians were interviewed. These physicians offer care to rural women residing in central Pennsylvania. They had to provide answers that mainly looked at IPV screening, perceptions of IPV as a health problem, current practices for responding to indentified IPV and barriers to rural communities that affect care for women who experienced IPV.

They noticed that 1 of the 6 physicians interviewed had screened women for IPV and there was standardized interval for screening within that group. Nearly 7 physicians did not believe that regular screening of every female patient for IPV was important and needed.

"I don't think it's appropriate unless there's something to suggest it might be happening ... We have a lot of patients who come in and are happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and I'm not going to ask those if they're getting beaten on," explained one physician during the interview.

Nearly half of the physicians claimed that one of main barriers for many women who might otherwise seek help for IPV was financial dependence. Around 11 percent of the physicians claimed that the patients fail to consider family doctors as the right person to seek help from.

IPV screening is now recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force.  The researchers strongly believe that the women suffering from violence in rural areas can be helped by being offered training for PCPs, educating the community and enhancing the access to services.

"IPV identification and treatment in primary care settings will also likely increase as a consequence of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, as screening and counseling for domestic violence has been added as a primary preventive service that all private health plans must cover," the researchers wrote.

The finding was documented in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

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