Care for emergency department patients who have experienced domestic violence: a review of the evidence base

J Clin Nurs. 2007 Sep;16(9):1736-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.01746.x.


Aims: A literature review was conducted to identify and evaluate the research base underpinning care for emergency department patients who have experienced domestic violence.

Background: The extent of domestic violence in the general population has placed it high on health and social policy agendas. The Department of Health has recognized the role of health care professionals to identify and provide interventions for patients who have experienced domestic violence.

Method: Systematic review.

Results: At least 6% of emergency department patients have experienced domestic violence in the previous 12 months although actual prevalence rates are probably higher. Simple direct questioning in a supportive environment is effective in facilitating disclosure and hence detecting cases of abuse. Although routine screening is most effective, index of suspicion screening is the current mode of practice in the UK. Index of suspicion screening is likely to contribute to under-detection and result in inequitable health care. Patients with supportive networks have reduced adverse mental health outcomes. Women will have negative perceptions of emergency care if their abuse is minimalized or not identified. Women want their needs and the needs of their children to be explored and addressed. Access to community resources is increased if patients receive education and information.

Conclusion: Domestic violence is an indisputable health issue for many emergency department patients. Practitioners face challenges from ambiguity in practice guidelines and the paucity of research to support interventions. Recommendations for practice based on the current evidence base are presented.

Relevance to clinical practice: The nursing care for patients in emergency and acute health care settings who have experienced domestic violence should focus on three domains of: (1) Providing physical, psychological and emotional support; (2) Enhancing safety of the patient and their family; (3) Promoting self-efficacy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Battered Women / education
  • Battered Women / psychology
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Nursing / education
  • Emergency Nursing / organization & administration*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Emergency Treatment / methods
  • Emergency Treatment / nursing*
  • Emergency Treatment / standards
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / education
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Needs Assessment
  • Nurse's Role / psychology
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Nursing Research / education
  • Nursing Research / organization & administration*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / education
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prevalence
  • Research Design
  • Social Support
  • Spouse Abuse / diagnosis
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology
  • Spouse Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Spouse Abuse / therapy*