Domestic Violence Reporting—What Are Physicians’ Requirements?

Caitlin Willenbrink, training coordinator at The Center for Women and Families

One in four women and one in nine men were victims of domestic violence—contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking—by an intimate partner with some sort of negative impact from 2010-2012, according to the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Caitlin Willenbrink, training coordinator at The Center for Women and Families, will discuss the challenges facing domestic violence victims—along with statistics and reporting requirements of physicians—during the KMA Meet the Mandates, Aug. 25 at the Hyatt Regency Downtown Louisville. The domestic violence course meets one of three mandated Continuing Medical Education required of physicians this year. Primary care physicians, who are granted licensure after July 1, 1996, are required to successfully complete the course within three years of the date of initial licensure.

Since the 1970s, all professionals have been required to report to adult protective services about spousal abuse; the original intent was to connect victims with protective services, Willenbrink said. A new law passed in the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly changed reporting and referral requirements for physicians. Now, physicians can provide information about services to victims.

“We want to make sure medical providers have all the information they need to meet their legal responsibilities, but also be able to do that in a way understanding where that person (a domestic violence victim) might be coming from, the concerns about their safety,” Willenbrink said. “Our goal is to build that understanding of why domestic violence victims behave in a certain way and how (physicians) can build trust with patients to get around that.”

It’s particularly important for physicians, who typically play a trusted role in the lives of their patients. Plus, Willenbrink said, “most people are seeking medical care more often than they are interacting with almost any other system.”

Willenbrink, who trains social service and medical professionals to respond to intimate partner and sexual violence, said it’s important for physicians to respond in a way that recognizes that trust and the important role they play. “The most important and most critical response we can make when somebody confides about violence is to believe them,” she said, “and to validate that what they’re talking about is a health issue.”

That means health care providers must provide an emotional support and validation before moving on to meeting the referral requirement under Kentucky law, she said.

“Many victims are hesitant to come forward because they think they’re not going to be believed, so I am hopeful the participants will walk away knowing why that is important and knowing what they can say to communicate that,” said Willenbrink.

She’d like to learn from the physicians in attendance at the session so she can take that information back to help educate others; part of her job is training second year medical students at the University of Louisville.

“I’m looking forward to learning from participants about what works in their field of practice so I can share that with medical students that I train,” she said.