I’m In an Abusive Relationship – Should I Tell My Doctor? March 26, 2018


If you are experiencing domestic or partner violence, it is important to know how and where to seek help. Can you talk to your doctor about your situation without judgement or legal intervention? In most cases (barring child or elder abuse), discussing your experiences with your physician is confidential under HIPAA and may offer you the necessary resources to attain help if you choose it.

Relationship violence can happen at any age, within hetero- or homosexual relationships, to women or men; though 85% of those who experience abuse from a partner are women, and domestic abuse is the leading cause of injury for women in the United States. The phrase “domestic violence” is typically used to refer to abuse in a marriage or between those who live together. Relationship or partner violence, while dating, is just as prevalent. Learning to recognize the signals of abusive relationships early, evaluating your relationship for patterns of abuse, and talking about it to someone you trust can save your life. 

If you are experiencing violence from a partner or family member, know that you have options, and you can receive help. Meeting with your physician is an opportunity to confidentially discuss the issues you are experiencing at home that may put your physical or emotional health at risk. Together, you can discuss options and develop a plan for going forward.

Under recommendation from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, your physician is trained to screen for domestic and family violence, and may ask you a series of questions if he or she suspects an intimidating partner or observes an intentional injury. These question might include:

  • Are you afraid of your partner?  Do you feel you are in danger?
  • You mentioned your partner’s problem with temper/stress/drinking. When that happens, has he ever threatened or hurt you?
  • Every couple fights at times – what are your fights like at home?  Do the fights ever become physical?
  • Have you been hit or scared since the last time I saw you?
  • Has anyone at home hit you or tried to injure you in any way?
  • What kinds of experiences with violence have you had in your life?
  • Do you feel controlled or isolated by your partner?
  • Does your partner ever try to control you by threatening to hurt you or your family?
  • Has anyone close to you ever threatened or hurt you?
  • Does your partner ever hit, kick, hurt or threaten you?
  • Have you ever been slapped, pushed or shoved by your partner?
  • Have you ever been touched in a way that made you feel uncomfortable?
  • Has anyone ever made you to do something sexual when you did not want to?
  • Has your partner ever refused to practice safe sex? 

If your abusive partner accompanies you to your appointment, your doctor may ask him or her to leave the examination room for a period of time so that you may have the privacy and safety to talk. If you suspect that your partner will insist on accompanying you to your appointment, but you would like to arrange for privacy during your check-up, you may wish to bring this up to the receptionist privately upon making your appointment so that your physician can be sure to mandate confidential time with you within the examination room or a safe space.

You will not be forced to report the abuse or sign a written confession, though the information will become a part of your medical record. Let your doctor know if you are concerned that your partner will view this record, so measures can be taken to make this confidential. Your health care practitioner can provide you with the resources necessary to seek help or develop a safety plan in the event you feel that your health is at risk.

It is important to put your life first; evidence indicates that the longer you stay in an abusive relationship and try to “change” the actions of a violent partner, the abuse is likely to escalate or cause serious injury or death.

Know that you are not alone.

If you live in the Charleston or Tri-county area, My Sister’s House provides services and resources to assist those experiencing partner violence.


1.800.799.SAFE (7233) 1.800.787.3224 (TTY)

For more resources and information on dating violence and abusive relationships, visit NCADV.org or loveisrespect.org.


Cleveland Clinic. You Can – And Should – Talk To Your Doctor About Domestic Abuse. Accessed 10/21/16.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline. What is A Safety Plan. Accessed 10/21/16.

DoSomething.org. 11 Facts About Domestic Violence. Accessed 10/21/16.

U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse of Elderly and Vulnerable Adults. Accessed 10/21/16.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Statistics. Accessed 10/21/16.

Stanford Medicine. How To Ask. Accessed 10/21/16.

Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic provides medical care to eligible patients, just like any family practitioner or internist – but it is free. We serve uninsured adults living at or below 200 % of the Federal poverty level who live or work on Johns, Wadmalaw or James Islands. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

More Health Check

Top 10 Best Health & Wellness Podcasts: UPDATED

Sometimes it’s easier to slip in a little self motivation during your morning commute (and often critical to prepare during that long road trip to...

Upcoming Event: Fashion for a Cause!

A Day to Look Good - and Feel Even Better. BIFMC’S Annual Fashion for a Cause and Sip n Shop will take place from 11am...

Soul Food for Healthy Living: Ask A Nutritionist – And a Soul Food Historian.

"In addition to the traditional soul food, one is called down-home healthy. The idea there is that you take traditional soul food preparations and you...