Screening women for intimate partner violence in healthcare settings: abridged Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis

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Abstract

Objective

To examine the effectiveness of screening for intimate partner violence conducted within healthcare settings to determine whether or not screening increases identification and referral to support agencies, improves women's wellbeing, decreases further violence, or causes harm.

Design

Systematic review and meta-analysis of trials assessing effectiveness of screening. Study assessment, data abstraction, and quality assessment were conducted independently by two of the authors. Standardised estimations of the risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated.

Data sources

Nine databases searched up to July 2012 (CENTRAL, Medline, Medline(R), Embase, DARE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, and ASSIA), and five trials registers searched up to 2010.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies

Randomised or quasi-randomised trials of screening programmes for intimate partner violence involving all women aged ≥16 attending a healthcare setting. We included only studies in which clinicians in the intervention arm personally conducted the screening, or were informed of the screening result at the time of the consultation, compared with usual care (or no screening). Studies of screening programmes that were followed by structured interventions such as advocacy or therapeutic intervention were excluded.

Results

11 eligible trials (n=13 027) were identified. In six pooled studies (n=3564), screening increased the identification of intimate partner violence (risk ratio 2.33, 95% confidence interval 1.39 to 3.89), particularly in antenatal settings (4.26, 1.76 to 10.31). Based on three studies (n=1400), we detected no evidence that screening increases referrals to domestic violence support services (2.67, 0.99 to 7.20). Only two studies measured women's experience of violence after screening (three to 18 months after screening) and found no reduction in intimate partner violence. One study reported that screening does not cause harm.

Conclusions

Though screening is likely to increase identification of intimate partner violence in healthcare settings, rates of identification from screening interventions were low relative to best estimates of prevalence of such violence. It is uncertain whether screening increases effective referral to supportive agencies. Screening does not seem to cause harm in the short term, but harm was measured in only one study. As the primary studies did not detect improved outcomes for women screened for intimate partner violence, there is insufficient evidence for screening in healthcare settings. Studies comparing screening versus case finding, or screening in combination with therapeutic intervention for women's long term wellbeing, are needed to inform the implementation of identification policies in healthcare settings.

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