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J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005 May-Jun;18(3):159-65.

Health care workers' expectations and empathy toward patients in abusive relationships.

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Division of General Internal Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR 97215, USA.



To understand attitudes that may affect health care workers' ability to provide appropriate long-term care for patients who stay with abusive partners.


We surveyed 278 health care workers in 31 primary care practices before their participation in an educational intervention.


More than half of participants (51% to 60%) found it easy to empathize with a patient who decided to remain in an abusive relationship if the patient was described as poor or disabled, but few (25% to 39%) could empathize if the patient was described as educated or financially secure. A majority (57% to 59%) agreed with a statement meant to assess unrealistic expectations. ("A provider's responsibility includes making sure a patient gets to a shelter right away if he or she discloses abuse.") Participants who agreed with this statement had more difficulty empathizing with patients who decided to stay with an abusive partner (P = .0045).


Training efforts must focus on screening and on helping providers develop more realistic expectations about the complex nature of leaving an abusive relationship. Health care workers need a better understanding of the barriers patients face and why patients may choose to remain in abusive relationships, even in the absence of economic or health limitations.

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