Surgeons Underestimate Domestic Violence-Related Injuries

A recent study by researchers at the University of Missouri has found that 74 percent of American orthopedic trauma surgeons, who treat many victims of domestic violence, substantially underestimate the prevalence of domestic violence injuries among their patients.

“In the United States, most orthopedic surgeons receive training in techniques for recognizing signs of child abuse, but training to recognize abuse of adults is far less common, said Gregory Della Rocca, MD, PhD, co-director of orthopedic trauma services at MU Health Care and the study’s lead author. “Only 23 percent of the surgeons we surveyed had received any training on recognizing and responding to intimate partner violence,”.

The study’s findings, published in April in the journal Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research, hold true internationally too. Della Rocca was also lead author of the international study, which appeared this week in the Lancet.

The study was based on a survey of 153 orthopedic trauma surgeons, mostly in North America, who were asked questions about the importance and ability for medical professionals to recognize and respond to signs of intimate partner violence, their beliefs about the causes of domestic violence, and estimates about the prevalence of domestic-violence injuries among their patients. Dr. Della Rocca said the survey found that most orthopedic surgeons significantly underestimated how often they see domestic violence injuries.

“Based on our research about the high prevalence of intimate partner violence among orthopedic trauma patients and the misconceptions about how common it actually is, I encourage orthopedic surgeons to seek out education on the topic and learn about community resources where they can refer patients for help,” said Dr. Della Rocca, who collaborates with the university’s social workers to provide patients information on community resources, such as counseling, women’s shelters and legal protection when he suspects that a patient sustained injuries through abuse.

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