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"I Just Keep My Antennae Out": How Rural Primary Care Physicians Respond to Intimate Partner Violence

NCJ Number
Journal of Interpersonal Violence Volume: 29 Issue: 14 Dated: September 2014 Pages: 2670-2694
Jennifer S. McCall-Hosenfeld; Carol S. Weisman; Amanda N. Perry; Marianne M. Hillemeier; Cynthia H. Chuang
Date Published
September 2014
25 pages

Women in rural communities who are exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) have fewer resources when seeking help due to limited health services, poverty, and social isolation. Rural primary care physicians may be key sources of care for IPV victims. The objective of this study was to assess the opinions and practices of primary care physicians caring for rural women with regard to IPV identification, the scope and severity of IPV as a health problem, how primary care providers respond to IPV in their practices, and barriers to optimized IPV care in their communities.


Semistructured interviews were conducted with 19 internists, family practitioners, and obstetrician-gynecologists in rural central Pennsylvania. Interview transcripts were analyzed for major themes. Most physicians did not practice routine screening for IPV due to competing time demands, lack of training, limited access to referral services as well as low confidence in their effectiveness, and concern that inquiry would harm the patient-doctor relationship. IPV was considered when patients presented with symptoms of mood, anxiety, or somatic disorders. Responses to IPV included validation, danger assessment, safety planning, referral, and follow-up planning. Perceived barriers to rural women seeking help for IPV included traditional gender roles, lower education, economic dependence on the partner, low self-esteem, and patient reluctance to discuss IPV. To overcome barriers, physicians created a "safe sanctuary" to discuss IPV and suggested improved public health education and referral services. Interventions to improve IPV-related care in rural communities should address barriers at multiple levels, including both physicians' and patients' comfort with discussing IPV. Provider training, community education, and improved access to referral services are key areas in which IPV-related care should be improved in rural communities. The authors data supports routine screening to better identify IPV and a more pro-active stance toward screening and counseling. Abstract published by arrangement with Sage Journals.