How Your Doctor Can Help Address Intimate Partner Violence

At your last doctor’s visit, did anyone ask if you were safe at home? It’s important to know why you are being asked about your intimate relationships and what happens if you say that you are not safe.

Approximately 1 in 3 women in the United States report experiencing some form of intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. Symptoms such as chronic migraines, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, depression, and numerous other health effects are experienced by survivors. Not having a safe person to talk with or a safe place to talk about IPV can prevent someone from getting help. Often, survivors feel a sense of security around medical professionals, which makes them more likely to disclose IPV in a health care setting.

The M Health Community Network project (a grant funded by the Office on Women’s Health) is facilitating care for survivors with the use of a coordinated clinic and community response model that is supported by a partnership among researchers, the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota), and the University of Minnesota’s Clinics and Surgery Center (CSC).

Through the project, the Domestic Abuse Project brought on a full-time case manager to support referrals from the CSC and develop new partnerships in the community. As part of the project, rooming staff at the CSC were trained to screen all adult patients for IPV. If a patient indicates past or present partner violence, they have the opportunity to be connected with a member of the clinic’s Behavioral Health Team (BHT) who can meet during that same visit and provide immediate support, mental health referrals, and safety planning.

One of the most significant relationships fostered through the project has been between the BHT and the DAP case manager. This relationship is important in serving women who experience IPV, especially since each woman’s situation is unique. Survivors’ needs vary and may include assistance accessing basic services, obtaining legal and financial support, and accessing mental and behavioral health care. Patient needs are assessed and supports are individually tailored, ensuring a warm hand-off to community services. In this client-centered model, patients have reported feeling heard, believed, and supported.

One example is the story of…