Routine primary care screening for intimate partner violence and other adverse psychosocial exposures: what’s the evidence?
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BACKGROUND: Family physicians and other primary care practitioners are encouraged or expected to screen for an expanding array of concerns and problems including intimate partner violence (IPV). While there is no debate about the deleterious impact of violence and other adverse psychosocial exposures on health status, the key question raised here is about the value of routine screening in primary care for such exposures. DISCUSSION: Several characteristics of IPV have led to consideration for routine IPV screening in primary care and during other healthcare encounters (e.g., emergency room visits) including: its high prevalence, concern that it may not be raised spontaneously if not prompted, and the burden of suffering associated with this exposure. Despite these factors, there are now three randomized controlled trials showing that screening does not reduce IPV or improve health outcomes. Yet, recommendations to routinely screen for IPV persist. Similarly, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have several characteristics (e.g., high frequency, predictive power of such experiences for subsequent health problems, and concerns that they might not be identified without screening) suggesting they too should be considered for routine primary care screening. However, demonstration of strong associations with health outcomes, and even causality, do not necessarily translate into the benefits of routine screening for such experiences. To date, there have been no controlled trials examining the impact and outcomes - either beneficial or harmful - of routine ACEs screening. Even so, there is an expansion of calls for routine screening for ACEs. While we must prioritize how best to support and intervene with patients who have experienced IPV and other adverse psychosocial exposures, we should not be lulled into a false sense of security that our routine use of "screeners" results in better health outcomes or less violence without evidence for such. Decisions about implementation of routine screening for psychosocial concerns need similar rigorous debate and scrutiny of empirical evidence as that recommended for proposed physical health screening (e.g., for prostate and breast cancer).
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