Background: Although domestic violence (DV) is recognized as a serious crime, only recently has it been acknowledged as a critical public health problem.
Methods: To develop appropriate medical intervention methods to stop abuse, we interviewed 406 female patients in the ambulatory clinics at the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center, using a standardized questionnaire. We assessed their experiences with DV and their expectations of physicians in treating victims.
Results: Of the 406 women, 40% have had emotional/physical abuse by a partner, 7% were currently in abusive relationships, and 3% had forced sex within the past year. Although 68% of the women could tell their doctors they were abuse victims, only 12% have been asked about abuse. Even when told of abuse, the doctors did nothing for 20% of the patients. The majority of the respondents believe that doctors should routinely screen for abuse. As part of treatment, all women strongly recommended that doctors provide information on community and legal resources and assistance in seeking protective services.
Conclusions: Domestic violence is a significant problem for female patients in the ambulatory care setting. Women expect physicians to act as their advocates and, in partnership with other community professionals, to assist abuse victims and stop the violence.