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Friday Aug 02, 2019

Three suggestions for addressing patients' sexual assault history

Many sexual assault survivors believe that discussing sexual assault with their physicians can help them recover. Establishing an open, supportive attitude, demeanor, and office environment can facilitate disclosures and lay the groundwork for compassionate care. Consider these three suggestions to help open the lines of communication with adult patients:

1. Include sexual assault history in your screening questions. You could incorporate questions about sexual assault history in templates or patient surveys for new patient appointments, annual visits, or first obstetric visits. If you already screen for intimate partner violence, consider broadening the screening questions to also include questions about sexual assault.

2. Think about your timing. The best time to discuss sexual assault history with a patient is before an exam, while the patient is fully dressed and you both are seated.

3. Choose your words carefully. A direct approach to communication may work best, such as, “I’m going to ask a few questions that will help me provide the best care for you. Many of my patients have experienced sexual violence. Has anything like that ever been done to you?” Or, in follow-up to a screening instrument completed before the visit, you might say, “Many of my patients have experienced sexual violence. I noticed you marked ‘yes’ on the screening questions. Is there anything I can do to help make the exam more comfortable or easier for you?” This wording offers some context, which can help patients who may not see the connection between a history of sexual assault and their current well-being to know why you’re asking about something so private. It also reminds patients that they are not alone and gives them permission to disclose if they feel comfortable and ready at this appointment or a future one.

Read the full FPM article: “Communication Tips for Caring for Survivors of Sexual Assault.”

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Posted at 08:30AM Aug 02, 2019 by FPM Editors

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