App to help physicians screen for domestic abuse

By Neil Versel
02:42 am

Abuse Screening AppA Florida domestic violence shelter and treatment facility has created what it calls the first smartphone app to screen patients for symptoms of abuse. The R3 App, which stands for "recognize, respond and refer," will be available for free for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices in the coming weeks.

Created by Orlando-based Harbor House of Central Florida, the app incorporates the "HITS" process for screening, developed by Dr. Kevin Sherin in 1998, before he went on to become director of the Orange County, Fla., Health Department in Orlando. The process asks suspected victims of abuse how often in the previous 12 months their partners: physically hurt them; insulted them; threatened physical harm; and screamed or cursed at them.

Like the test itself, the app asks patients to assign a score of 1 to 5 regarding the frequency of occurrences. With the app, any score of at least 13 of a possible 20 points alerts a healthcare professional who can help and provides the screening physician with the address of nearby shelters for victims of domestic violence.

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"We know that 85 percent of women who have been abused report that they want to tell their doctor, so if we actually have physicians who, because of this app, can now screen not just when they suspect, but every single time that they see a patient, we could potentially save thousands and thousands of lives," Harbor House CEO Carol Wick says in a video provided by Florida Hospital. The Orlando-based health system, which funded development of the app, is making the electronic tool available to clinicians at multiple locations across Central Florida.

R3 is geared toward healthcare professionals, but will be available to the general public via iTunes and the Android Market. People who think they have been abused can discreetly take the test and find resources to help them.

The HITS test gives physicians a specific set of protocols to follow in pinpointing and treating cases of domestic abuse. Dr. Ademola Adewale, who practices emergency medicine at Florida Hospital, says it's always tricky when people present with injuries that could signify domestic violence.

"When you see these patients, they're actually afraid to tell you what really happened, and you actually have to probe more. And if you do probe and you find out something was going on and you're trying to get the law enforcement involved, and the next thing you know, they're afraid to tell their story," Adewale says in the video.

Adewale says the app makes it easier for him to know what he is dealing with, what to evaluate and which questions to ask the patient. "At the same time, I'll need to know what local resources we have in the community," he adds.

According to Adewale, only about 30 percent of community physicians actually ask their patients about abuse. "This application makes it easier for them to know the pertinent questions to ask," he says. "The goal is to identify the patient before they become a victim."

Given Florida's large Hispanic population, Harbor House is preparing a Spanish-language version of the R3 App. Wick also envisions providing the app to emergency medical technicians who respond to calls after incidents of domestic violence. She expects the app to gain a foothold worldwide, as Harbor House says that at least one in three of all women around the globe is physically or sexually abused during her lifetime.

Coincidentally, the R3 App's release comes just as the Department of Health and Human Services is wrapping up a challenge for developers to create apps that will address sexual assault on college campuses. Submissions to that contest were due Monday, and HHS will announce the winners on Oct. 31.

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