A new government study will investigate if pregnant women are more likely to admit to a computer, rather than a person, that they are victims of domestic violence.
And if they are, could a tablet computer be a better route to encourage abused women to get help in a safer, more expeditious manner?
Researches from nursing schools at the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University said their primary goal is to identify pregnant abused women and help them move toward a better, sounder, safer future — for themselves and their children.
Drs. Linda Bullock and Phyllis W. Sharps, both professors of nursing, said that research has long shown that women who suffer abuse prior to pregnancy are likelier to be abused during pregnancy, and those abused during pregnancy have a higher risk of abuse in the early weeks after the baby is born.
“If you don’t address the violence, you’re not going to have positive pregnancy outcomes for babies and their moms,” said Bullock. “You’re leaving the elephant in the room.”
Part of the issue, she said, is that those doing the asking — who are part of state and federal programs that offer women at high risk for poor pregnancy outcomes access to at-home health care visits — have widely varied skills. Abused women may not feel comfortable enough to confess their situation.
Moreover, the discomfort extends to the nurses asking the questions — a factor that may influence getting an honest answer from the victim.
A previous study led by Bullock and Sharps found that often “the nurses themselves feel uncomfortable about asking about the abuse, and that fact may be the barrier between a woman getting help and considering leaving their abuser — or not.”
“What we find is that when we’re using real, live home visitors, they’re very uncomfortable asking about abuse,” Bullock said. “There is a huge variety of educational levels among these folks. And many have been abused themselves.”
The abuser is often present during these home visits and monitoring what is said.
Of the 4,000 women to be assessed in Baltimore and rural areas of Virginia and Missouri, half will be screened for abuse by the current method – being asked orally, by a visiting nurse. The other half will be handed a mobile tablet (akin to an iPad or an Android hand-held computer) and earbuds by the visiting nurse, and then guided through a series of on-screen questions and prompts about intimate partner violence.
Should the abuser enter the room, a “safety button” prompts a cloaking video.
Though it remains to be proven, Sharps and Bullock hypothesize that using mobile tablets will increase the number of women who identify themselves as victims of domestic abuse by as much as one-third.
And once they’re identified, women who are victims can be given appropriate interventions that range from the straightforward — having extra sets of house and car keys, a packed bag with several days’ supplies of clothes and toiletries, having a “safety plan” to exit the residence quickly — to the more complex: protective order information, shelter locations and creating a repository for important paperwork, like Social Security cards and marriage and birth certificates.
Researchers believe the study will help policymakers to better appropriate money set aside by the Affordable Health Care Act for home visits and prenatal care for some of the nation’s most vulnerable, impoverished women.
Mobile health, using technology for assessment and intervention, will add another dimension to the researchers’ work.
“What makes this new grant exciting is introducing mobile health technology into traditional prenatal home visits,” Sharps said. “Our ultimate aim is to improve maternal and infant health outcomes.”
Source: University of Virginia