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Bone Doctors May Miss Signs of Domestic Abuse, Survey Finds

Most orthopedic surgeons not trained to recognize broken bones caused by intimate-partner violence

FRIDAY, Nov. 15, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Only about one-quarter of orthopedic trauma surgeons have the training needed to recognize broken bones caused by domestic abuse, according to new research.

And many of these bone specialists significantly underestimate how often these types of injuries occur among their patients, even though they treat many victims of this kind of violence, the study authors noted.

"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," Dr. Gregory Della Rocca, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

Della Rocca's team surveyed 153 orthopedic trauma surgeons, mostly in North America. The surgeons were asked about medical professionals' ability to recognize and respond to signs of intimate-partner violence, and whether that's important. They were also questioned regarding their beliefs about the causes of domestic violence. In addition, they were asked to estimate how many of their patients suffered domestic-violence injuries.

A recently published study found that 40 percent of North American patients at orthopedic trauma clinics have experienced domestic violence. However, this University of Missouri survey found that 74 percent of orthopedic surgeons estimated that only 5 percent or less of their patients were victims of domestic abuse.

"In our study, we found that most orthopedic surgeons believe identifying injuries caused by domestic violence is an important aspect of providing medical care, and they also believe that receiving education to recognize signs of intimate-partner violence could help them to stop violence in some cases," Della Rocca said.

However, "only 23 percent of the surgeons we surveyed had received any training on recognizing and responding to intimate-partner violence," he added.

The study was recently published in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research.

"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," Della Rocca suggested.

About 30 percent of women in North and South America suffer domestic violence at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization. In North America, domestic violence also is the most common cause of nonfatal injuries among women, often resulting in broken bones.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about domestic violence.

SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, Nov. 11, 2013

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