Intimate partner violence (IPV) damages individuals, their children, communities, and the wider economic and social fabric of society. Some governments and professional organisations recommend screening all women for IPV rather than asking only women with symptoms (case-finding). Here, we examine the evidence for whether screening benefits women and has no deleterious effects.
To assess the effectiveness of screening for IPV conducted within healthcare settings on identification, referral, re-exposure to violence, and health outcomes for women, and to determine if screening causes any harm.
On 17 February 2015, we searched CENTRAL, Ovid MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, six other databases, and two trial registers. We also searched the reference lists of included articles and the websites of relevant organisations.
Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials assessing the effectiveness of IPV screening where healthcare professionals either directly screened women face-to-face or were informed of the results of screening questionnaires, as compared with usual care (which could include screening that did not involve a healthcare professional).
Two authors independently assessed the risk of bias in the trials and undertook data extraction. For binary outcomes, we calculated a standardised estimation of the odds ratio (OR). For continuous data, either a mean difference (MD) or standardised mean difference (SMD) was calculated. All are presented with a 95% confidence interval (CI).
We included 13 trials that recruited 14,959 women from diverse healthcare settings (antenatal clinics, women's health clinics, emergency departments, primary care) predominantly located in high-income countries and urban settings. The majority of studies minimised selection bias; performance bias was the greatest threat to validity. The overall quality of the body of evidence was low to moderate, mainly due to heterogeneity, risk of bias, and imprecision.We excluded five of 13 studies from the primary analysis as they either did not report identification data, or the way in which they did was not consistent with clinical identification by healthcare providers. In the remaining eight studies (n = 10,074), screening increased clinical identification of victims/survivors (OR 2.95, 95% CI 1.79 to 4.87, moderate quality evidence).Subgroup analyses suggested increases in identification in antenatal care (OR 4.53, 95% CI 1.82 to 11.27, two studies, n = 663, moderate quality evidence); maternal health services (OR 2.36, 95% CI 1.14 to 4.87, one study, n = 829, moderate quality evidence); and emergency departments (OR 2.72, 95% CI 1.03 to 7.19, three studies, n = 2608, moderate quality evidence); but not in hospital-based primary care (OR 1.53, 95% CI 0.79 to 2.94, one study, n = 293, moderate quality evidence).Only two studies (n = 1298) measured referrals to domestic violence support services following clinical identification. We detected no evidence of an effect on referrals (OR 2.24, 95% CI 0.64 to 7.86, low quality evidence).Four of 13 studies (n = 2765) investigated prevalence (excluded from main analysis as rates were not clinically recorded); detection of IPV did not differ between face-to-face screening and computer/written-based assessment (OR 1.12, 95% CI 0.53 to 2.36, moderate quality evidence).Only two studies measured women's experience of violence (three to 18 months after screening) and found no evidence that screening decreased IPV.Only one study reported on women's health with no differences observable at 18 months.Although no study reported adverse effects from screening interventions, harm outcomes were only measured immediately afterwards and only one study reported outcomes at three months.There was insufficient evidence on which to judge whether screening increases uptake of specialist services, and no studies included an economic evaluation.
The evidence shows that screening increases the identification of women experiencing IPV in healthcare settings. Overall, however, rates were low relative to best estimates of prevalence of IPV in women seeking healthcare. Pregnant women in antenatal settings may be more likely to disclose IPV when screened, however, rigorous research is needed to confirm this. There was no evidence of an effect for other outcomes (referral, re-exposure to violence, health measures, lack of harm arising from screening). Thus, while screening increases identification, there is insufficient evidence to justify screening in healthcare settings. Furthermore, there remains a need for studies comparing universal screening to case-finding (with or without advocacy or therapeutic interventions) for women's long-term wellbeing in order to inform IPV identification policies in healthcare settings.