General practitioners need better resources and support to care for patients who experience violence in the home, say Melbourne researchers.
In an editorial for the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, general practice and family health specialists have outlined new international guidelines for GPs and other doctors managing families in which partner violence is occurring.
Over a period of twelve months, eight per cent of Australian women in primary care reported partner violence, says Dr Angela Taft of Mother and Child Health Research at La Trobe University, Melbourne.
Women suffer the most significant harm from domestic violence, and women also are more likely to seek health care for the physical and psychosocial effects of abuse.
"However, barriers to identification and management (of partner violence) include lack of training, time and effective intervention," says Dr Taft.
The new guidelines, Management of the whole family when intimate partner violence is present: Guidelines for primary care physicians, which are endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, recommend that GPs routinely ask at-risk patients, such as pregnant women or patients with symptoms of abusive behaviour, about partner violence.
GPs also are urged to consider the risk that partner violence may pose to a child's development, and whether children are able to access adult support outside the immediate family.
The guidelines suggest GPs and their staff should be trained in managing all family members experiencing violence, and clinics should establish protocols for monitoring danger to patients and other family members.
"Clinicians need to be mindful of the range of issues within the family that they may face," says Dr Taft.
"There is increasing evidence that partner abuse is an underlying issue in many serious, recurrent symptoms in primary care.
"Federal and State Governments should ensure that doctors are provided with sustainable and effective training, support and resources to play their part in society's efforts to prevent ongoing generations of damaged families."