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Health Care Providers Need Resources and Support to Help Female Victims of Abuse, According to Pitt Study

PITTSBURGH, May 18, 2009 — Health professionals are required to provide help for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), yet many do not even discuss the issue with their patients, according to a University of Pittsburgh study in the current issue of Violence and Victims.

Led by Judy C. Chang, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and gynecologist at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, the study found that when health care professionals are supported by their clinical institution, they feel competent and are more willing to help women experiencing IPV.

“Health administration’s recognition of IPV as a health care priority creates a supportive clinical environment that allows health care providers to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to help abused women,” said Dr. Chang. “Without such support, health care providers are less comfortable in their ability to address this issue with their patients.”

The study included focus groups and individual interviews with health care providers from two hospitals in western Pennsylvania. Participants were from an ob-gyn clinic serving a low-income population and a general medicine clinic serving patients from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Interviews were conducted with clinicians and focus groups were conducted with clinical support staff.

All participants said they felt a responsibility to help female victims of abuse but felt they needed more resources, time, IPV-focused training and system support.

“The findings of this study indicate that even when health care professionals recognize a responsibility and a role in dealing with abused women, support, resources and information are necessary to respond appropriately. The varying confidence levels between the groups also may be related to the different specialties,” noted Dr. Chang. “An ob-gyn clinic provides care to women only, while a general medicine facility – even one with a women’s health focus – is responsible for both women and men.”

“Time limitations are a major barrier to treating patients experiencing IPV,” said Dr. Chang. “Hectic schedules and the need to perform multiple tasks do not allow health care workers adequate time to counsel and educate patients about this topic.”

IPV-focused training is considered valuable to health care providers. Those interviewed said that this specialized training contributes to their comfort, willingness and ability to help victims of abuse.

Study participants agreed that after identifying a patient experiencing IPV, it would be helpful to work as a team to provide appropriate information, resources, referrals and/or counseling. They consider good working relationships and communication among health care professionals essential.  

Study co-authors include Raquel Buranosky, M.D., M.P.H., Patricia Cluss, Ph.D., and Melissa McNeil, M.D., M.P.H., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Diane Dado, M.S.W., Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC; Lynn Hawker, Ph.D., Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh; Elizabeth Rothe, M.D., Maine Medical Center, Portland; and Sarah H. Scholle, Dr.PH, National Center for Quality Assurance, Washington, D.C.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and now ranks fifth in the nation, according to preliminary data for fiscal year 2008. Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.

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