3. How to ask your patient

‘In any situation that you suspect underlying psychosocial problems you can ask indirectly and then directly about partner abuse.’

If you have concerns that your patient is experiencing family violence, you should ask to speak with her alone, separate from her partner or any other family members.

You can always ask broad questions about whether your patient’s relationships are affecting her health and wellbeing. For example:

  • ‘How are things at home?’
  • How are you and your partner getting on?’
  • ‘Is anything else happening which might be affecting your health?’

‘It is important to realise that women who have been abused want to be asked about domestic violence and are more likely to disclose if asked.’

If appropriate, you can ask direct questions about any violence. For example:¹⁰

  • ‘Are there ever times when you are frightened of your partner?’
  • ‘Are you concerned about your safety or the safety of your children?’
  • ‘Does the way your partner treats you make you feel unhappy or depressed?’
  • ‘Has your partner ever physically threatened or hurt you?’
  • ‘Violence is very common in the home. I ask a lot of my patients about abuse because no one should have to live in fear of their partners.’

If you see specific clinical symptoms, you can ask specific questions about these (e.g. bruising). These could include:

  • ‘You seem very anxious and nervous. Is everything alright at home?’
  • ‘When I see injuries like this, I wonder if someone could have hurt you?’
  • ‘Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that might be contributing to this condition?’

If your patient’s fluency in English is a barrier to discussing these issues, you should work with a qualified interpreter. Don’t use her partner, other family members or a child as an interpreter. It could compromise her safety, or make her uncomfortable to talk with you about her situation. The Doctors’ Priority Line, phone 1300 575 847, is a 24/7 free telephone interpreting service to assist GPs to communicate with patients from non-English speaking backgrounds.

[icon name=icon-double-angle-left]2. Indicators

4. Responding to a disclosure [icon name=icon-double-angle-right]

[8] Kelsey Hegarty, above n 6, at 1.
Kelsey Hegarty, ‘The hidden epidemic of domestic violence: when to ask and how to respond’ (2012) 13(7) Medicine Today 54-57; Kelsey Hegarty & Lorna O’Doherty, ‘Intimate partner violence – identification and response in general practice’ (2011) 40(11) Aust Fam Physician 852-6.
Charles George, Domestic Violence: A Report from the BMA Board of Science, (British Medical Association, 2007) 35.