Intended for healthcare professionals

Primary Care

Should health professionals screen women for domestic violence? Systematic review

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 10 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:314
  1. Jean Ramsay, senior research officera,
  2. Jo Richardson, research fellowa,
  3. Yvonne H Carter, professor of general practice and primary carea,
  4. Leslie L Davidson, directorb,
  5. Gene Feder, professor of primary care research and development (g.s.feder{at}
  1. aDepartment of General Practice and Primary Care, Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London E1 4NS
  2. bNational Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF
  1. Correspondence to: Gene Feder
  • Accepted 1 May 2002


Objective: To assess the evidence for the acceptability and effectiveness of screening women for domestic violence in healthcare settings.

Design: Systematic review of published quantitative studies.

Search strategy: Three electronic databases (Medline, Embase, and CINAHL) were searched for articles published in the English language up to February 2001.

Included studies: Surveys that elicited the attitudes of women and health professionals on the screening of women in health settings; comparative studies conducted in healthcare settings that measured rates of identification of domestic violence in the presence and absence of screening; studies measuring outcomes of interventions for women identified in health settings who experience abuse from a male partner or ex-partner compared with abused women not receiving an intervention.

Results: 20 papers met the inclusion criteria. In four surveys, 43-85% of women respondents found screening in healthcare settings acceptable. Two surveys of health professionals' views found that two thirds of physicians and almost half of emergency department nurses were not in favour of screening. In nine studies of screening compared with no screening, most detected a greater proportion of abused women identified by healthcare professionals. Six studies of interventions used weak study designs and gave inconsistent results. Other than increased referral to outside agencies, little evidence exists for changes in important outcomes such as decreased exposure to violence. No studies measured quality of life, mental health outcomes, or potential harm to women from screening programmes.

Conclusion: Although domestic violence is a common problem with major health consequences for women, implementation of screening programmes in healthcare settings cannot be justified. Evidence of the benefit of specific interventions and lack of harm from screening is needed.


  • Funding The National Screening Committee funded part of the original review on which this paper is based.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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