Research Points to the Important Potential Role of Radiologists in Detecting Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

The statistic that about one in every four women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime in the United States (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) is alarming, but one that needs to be brought up during Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October and also all year-round. Even with this prevalence, little research has been done to correlate imaging findings with abuse by a current or former partner or spouse, until now.

A group of researchers set out to assess the radiologic findings associated with intimate partner violence (IPV). The study was recently published in Radiology where you can view materials, methodology and overall results. Elizabeth George, MD, clinical fellow in the Neuroradiology section in the UC San Francisco Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, was lead author on this study. The study was performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) where she was formerly a chief resident.

For this study, researchers looked at 185 emergency department (ED) patients who reported IPV and were then referred to the BWH IPV support program from January 2015 to October 2016. They compared records to a control group of 555 patients, also seen in the ED. They also reviewed reports of all imaging studies performed within five years prior to the index ED visit. Overall, they observed that victims of IPV underwent imaging about four times more often than the general population and they concluded that IPV victims have a higher frequency of potential violence-related imaging findings.

“Victims of abuse are accessing healthcare and undergoing imaging studies,” said Dr. George in RSNA News. “Radiologists need to be more cognizant of this diagnosis, be aware of the imaging findings, and work towards being able to identify these patients early.”

Indeed, further investigation into this critical topic could lead to an algorithm that can detect IPV similar to one that exists for detecting child abuse. Bharti Khurana, MD, director of emergency musculoskeletal radiology at BWH and principal investigator on this study, decided to conduct this study after observing patterns in a patient’s prior studies, while also uncovering during a trauma “hackathon,” that physicians often miss the signs of IPV. Overall, looking at what researchers call the “entire clinical picture” including economic and socioeconomic factors along with radiology findings, could help identify a patient at risk for IPV.

“Already, the results could both raise awareness of this public health problem among radiologists and encourage them to look at findings in a new light,” says Dr. George. The results of this study could help offer radiologists clues on what to look for, and can put radiologists in the position to help victims and make a difference in their safety and in their lives.

Other authors on this study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School include Catherine Phillips, MD; Annie Lewis-O’Connor, PhD, NP-BC, MPH, FAAN; Nandish Shah, MD; Bernard Rosner, PhD; and Hanni M. Stoklosa, MD, MPH.

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