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New England Journal of Medicine prints letter on domestic violence (3-23-00)

A recent New England Journal of Medicine includes a letter to the editor co-authored by domestic abuse experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the University Health System. The three experts started the SAFE Family Project that is offered at University Hospital.

Joe Thornton, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Health Science Center; Margaret Brackley, Ph.D., RN, CS, associate professor in the Department of Chronic Nursing Care; and Evelyn Swenson-Britt, MS, RN, CS, clinical nurse specialist in adult psychiatry and mental health with the University Health System, wrote in response to a Journal article on domestic violence. In that article, the authors advised against listing abuse as a diagnosis on patient medical records. The goal was to protect patientsí privacy.

In the letter, Dr. Thornton, who established the SAFE Family Project at University Hospital, wrote that "information in the medical record is critical in providing support for the patient in any legal proceedings and for public health efforts. Specifically, the physician (not the nurse or social worker) must include in the medical record a diagnosis of Ďadult battering and other maltreatmentí and identify the reported perpetrator by name and relationship to the victim as directly quoted from the victim."

"We have to end the secrecy that still surrounds the issue of domestic violence," said Dr. Thornton. "We can help put an end to the abuse by educating all our patients about the issue and identifying the abusers. To stop the violence, we have to stop the perpetrators."

Drs. Brackley and Thornton, along with their project director, Swenson-Britt, hold funding from the Health Education Training Centers Alliance of Texas and the San Antonio Area Foundation to improve health care response to domestic violence through training and systemic change.

The group also holds major funding ($1.6 million) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mount a "coordinated community response to prevent intimate partner violence" in San Antonio and Bexar County.

Contact: Will Sansom or Jennifer Lorenzo