Preventive care in the emergency department: screening for domestic violence in the emergency department

Acad Emerg Med. 2003 Oct;10(10):1118-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2003.tb00585.x.


Objectives: The most effective methods for identification and management of domestic violence (DV) victims in health care settings are unknown. The objective of this study was to systematically review screening for DV in the emergency department (ED) to identify victims and decrease morbidity and mortality from DV.

Methods: Using the terms "domestic violence" or "partner violence," and "identification" or "screening," and "emergency," the authors searched MEDLINE, the Cochrane Database, and Emergency Medical Abstracts from 1980-2002. They selected articles studying screening tools, interventions, or determining the incidence or prevalence of DV among ED patients. The studies were analyzed using evidence-based methodology.

Results: Three hundred thirty-nine articles resulted from the literature search. Based on selection criteria, 45 were reviewed in detail and 17 pertained to the ED. From references of these 17 articles, three additional articles were added. Screening can be conducted using a brief verbal screen and existing ED personnel. A randomized, controlled trial did not demonstrate a difference in screening rates between experimental and control hospitals. No studies assessed the effect of ED screening for DV on morbidity or mortality of domestic violence. An ED-based advocacy program resulted in increased use of shelters and counseling.

Conclusions: Because of the paucity of outcomes research evaluating ED screening and interventions, there is insufficient evidence for or against DV screening in the ED. However, because of the high burden of suffering caused by DV, health care providers should strongly consider routinely inquiring about DV as part of the history, at a minimum for all female adolescent and adult patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Domestic Violence / prevention & control*
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening*