Domestic violence affects a third of women worldwide, says the World Health Organization. In many cases nobody knows of the suffering, and victims aren’t able to get help in time, reports NPR. That’s why in many countries there’s been a push to make screening for domestic violence a routine part of doctor visits. Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that clinicians ask all women of childbearing age whether they’re being abused. A new analysis in BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, suggests such generalized screenings may not be helping much. A review of 11 studies involving 13,027 women in wealthy countries found that screening questions did help doctors identify more than twice as many patients who were suffering from abuse.
Routine screenings didn’t necessarily help those women get the follow-up support they needed. “The emphasis on how to identify victims distracts attention from the real issues,” says Dr. Gene Feder, a professor of primary care medicine at the University of Bristol, an author of the review. Instead, the medical community should be focusing on providing victims with proper support, he says. “We don’t think screening is necessarily harmful,” Feder says. “We just can’t give doctors a compelling reason for doing it.” To be effective, doctors and nurses need to be trained how to ask the right questions, and to connect those who’ve been abused with the right resources, Feder says.