(Bloomberg) — Women of childbearing age should be screened by their primary doctors to determine if they are victims of domestic abuse, a U.S. panel recommends.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel, was seeking to update its 2004 recommendations to help health professionals screen and prevent domestic violence. While available research allowed the group to issue guidelines for 14- to 46-year-old females, the task force was unable to make proposals for other groups such as the elderly. The panel also said not enough data existed to provide preliminary suggestions for how doctors could help prevent child abuse or neglect.

“We hope the clinicians get the message that screening for intimate partner violence works, particularly for women of childbearing age,” says David Grossman, a member of the task force and senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. “As far as screening for men and screening for the elderly, we would say that we just don’t know about the effectiveness of that. We’re basically saying clinicians need to use their judgment.”

As for children, Grossman said, “we just don’t have enough information to know what works to prevent child abuse in primary care.” Doctors though still need to be alert to the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect and act accordingly, he said.

A review 11 clinical trials published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that early childhood home visitation programs helped reduce neglect and abuse, although the findings were inconsistent across the studies.

“It was kind of a mixed bag,” says Heidi Nelson, senior investigator of the study and a professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “More and better research would be helpful.”

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