Though numbers are difficult to estimate, advocates believe one in three women around the world have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner.
It's difficult to be sure so a few countries, notably the United States, have introduced screening program in healthcare settings to try and see what works. The results in BMJ found no evidence to support domestic violence screening.
The scholars reviewed all trials globally that assessed the effectiveness of intimate partner violence screening in primary care, antenatal care and emergency medicine departments, consisting of 11 studies, involving 13,027 women in high-income countries. Although screening increased identification of cases by 133 percent, the proportion of women identified was so small – ranging from three percent to 17 percent - that it can't be said that screening increased referrals to domestic violence support services, nor reduced violence or improved quality of life and other outcomes for domestic violence survivors.
Screening involved a range of methods to identify whether women patients had experience of domestic abuse, including face-to-face questions and computer surveys carried out during routine or emergency appointments.
Professor Gene Feder, from the University of Bristol's School of Social and Community Medicine, said, "By looking at research trials carried out around the world, we found no evidence that screening improves access to specialist domestic violence support or leads to a reduction of violence.
"This is an example of research that tells us what not to do. Yes, doctors and nurses need to ask women patients about abuse, but not all women patients. We need to shift the research focus towards developing effective care for survivors of domestic violence after they have disclosed, however they are identified."
They say the findings instead support the NICE domestic violence guidelines and the World Health Organisation's (WHO) intimate partner violence guidelines, which don't recommend domestic violence screening and instead recommend training of clinicians and development of care pathways to specialist domestic violence services.