Can Internet-based education improve physician confidence in dealing with domestic violence?

John M Harris, Randa M Kutob, Zita J Surprenant, Roland D Maiuro, Thomas A Delate
Family Medicine 2002, 34 (4): 287-92

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Domestic violence (DV) is a common, under-recognized source of visits to health care professionals. Even when recognized, physicians are reluctant to deal with DV, citing a lack of education and lack of confidence in addressing issues presented by DV patients. Only a small number of DV education programs have been shown to lead to improvements in professional knowledge and confidence, and these are intensive, multi-day courses. We sought to develop an on-line DV education program that could achieve improvements in physician confidence and attitudes in managing DV patients comparable to classroom-based courses.

METHODS: We created an interactive, case-based DV education program targeted to physicians caring for DV patients. We tested the effectiveness of this program in changing attitudes and beliefs in a randomized, controlled trial of Kansas physicians who volunteered to participate in a study of on-line continuing medical education. We measured program effectiveness with an externally developed and validated pretest/posttest instrument.

RESULTS: Sixty-five physicians completed the pretest/posttest, 28 of whom were assigned to receive the on-line DV program. We found a +17.8% mean change in confidence (self efficacy) for physicians who took the DV program versus a -.6% change for physicians who did not take the program. We also found improvements in other important areas associated with poor management of DV patients. These changes were similar or greater in magnitude to those reported by others who have used the same survey tool to evaluate an intensive, multi-hour classroom approach to DV education. User satisfaction with the on-line program was high.

CONCLUSIONS: An interactive, case-based, on-line DV education program that teaches problem-solving skills improves physician confidence and beliefs in managing DV patients as effectively as an intensive classroom-based approach. Such programs may be of benefit to those seeking to improve their personal skills or their health care delivery system's response to DV.

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