Purpose: Physicians fail to identify the majority of domestic violence victims, even though they are often the first and only individuals to whom a victim may present. The present study was designed to assess primary care physicians' recognition of and attitudes toward domestic violence.
Method: Of the 148 primary care physicians in three midwestern counties, all the women and a random sample of the men were included in the survey, for a total of 83. A seven-page questionnaire was developed that contained items about demographics and practice characteristics, and questions about the following aspects of domestic violence: knowledge, attitudes, importance, and prevalence in practice; attitudes toward responsibility; current practices and protocols used; level of education and domestic violence received; and opinions on how best to distribute information and/or education concerning domestic violence. The questionnaire was mailed in 1994. Follow-up was conducted through phone calls, remailings, and visits to the physicians' offices. Responses were examined using chi-square tests and two-tailed t-tests.
Results: The response rate was 63% (52 of 83); 53% of those responding were family physicians and 47% were general internists; 34% were women. Although all of the physicians agreed that finding and treating domestic violence is important, less than half agreed that domestic violence was a significant problem in their patient populations. Almost 96% of the physicians believed that more should be done to educate physicians about domestic violence, and 94% agreed that domestic violence should be included in a doctor's professional medical training; yet nearly half said they would not participate in a domestic violence forum. Even though 41% noted that they had received some type of formal education about domestic violence, 57% felt that their medical education had inadequately prepared them to deal with domestic violence, and less than 25% reported that they had been trained to diagnose domestic violence. The family physicians and the female physicians had received more education about domestic violence and were more comfortable addressing domestic-violence situations. The older physicians were less comfortable addressing domestic violence and were less likely to agree that education about domestic violence should be a part of medical training.
Conclusion: Interventions by the medical community to increase physician awareness of domestic violence and available treatment resources are necessary, and domestic-violence information should be included in formal medical curricula.