'RITa' helps victims of domestic abuse in the safety of their doctors' office
Primary care practices in Rochester, N.Y., are pilot testing an app that screens patients for domestic violence and makes actionable recommendations for victims and their doctors.
A team of researchers and advocates at Rochester Institute of Technology and Resolve of Greater Rochester (RESOLVE) developed the software program."Family care practitioners are often the first place victims of domestic violence turn for help," said Allison O'Malley, RESOLVE CEO. "Intimate-partner violence (IPV) is a complex issue with many negative health implications, and physicians need to know what to do when patients disclose abuse or when their symptoms raise concern."
Participating physicians are offering the app to patients when domestic-violence screening suggests a risk or if abuse is disclosed during an office visit. Health workers are also taking the app into the community. O'Malley provides protocols for administering the app and for patient follow-up.
The software program features an avatar named "RITa" to assess a patient's mental health and physical safety. RITa is installed on local iPads kept at the medical practices. Intimate partner violence is a widespread public health issue that affects one in four women, one in six men and one in two LGBTQ persons in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
O'Malley recognized the need for standardized digital IPV screening and teamed up with Caroline Easton, professor, and Nicole Trabold, assistant professor in RIT's School of Behavioral Health Sciences.
"Patient centered innovations like RITa can help meet the physical and mental health needs of victims of violence," Trabold said.
The interactive avatar asks 30 validated questions to assess a victims' status and make recommendations to the patients and their physicians. The avatar also teaches victims about relationship dynamics and how living with an abusive or violent partner can impact their health.
"RITa is the first application of a 'female' avatar to screen for IPV among victims," Easton said. "RITa illustrates how we can combine advancements in science and technology with art and design to make a real impact in our community and provide safety for those at risk for serious harm or injury."
RITa evolved from Easton's therapeutic model that identifies and treats addiction and anger as underlying causes of family, domestic and intimate partner violence. Easton's team translated her alternative treatment approach into the cell phone apps RITch and RITchie to screen and treat adult and young adult male offenders. These virtual coaches are used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, to model coping skills for reducing and eliminating alcohol and substance abuse, and for managing aggression.