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Aug 25, 2014 06:31 AM EDT

Primary Care Physicians Can Help Abused Rural Women, Study

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Majority of primary care physicians in rural communities do not frequently diagnose women for intimate partner violence (IPV), according to a Penn State Medical and Public Health study.

The researchers said that rural women subjected to such violence have limited resources at their disposal if they seek help. Plus, patients do not often consider IPV as a health problem

"Rural health care providers are uniquely positioned to help women," said Jennifer S. McCall-Hosenfeld - a primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine and Public Health sciences, Penn State College of Medicine - in a statement. "However, in rural settings, it might be even more important for physicians to step in, because there are few places for women experiencing IPV to turn. The physicians are in a good position to help, and may be the only option for rural women."

For the study, the researchers surveyed 19 primary care physicians of rural communities in central Pennsylvania on IPV screening, perceptions of IPV as a health problem, current practices for treating to identified IPV and barriers unique to rural communities that affect care for women with IPV.

The researchers found that only six of the physicians screened women for IPV at irregular intervals. Seven participants felt that timely screening every female patient for IPV was not necessary.

"I don't think it's appropriate unless there's something to suggest it might be happening ... We have a lot of patients who come in and are happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and I'm not going to ask those if they're getting beaten on," said one physician during the interview.

The study also found that financial dependence was one of the main barriers for most women to seek help for IPV. Eleven percent of the physicians acknowledged that patients do not even think about their family doctors as "their person" for help.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force now recommends IPV screening.

The finding is published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

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