Computer screening for domestic violence has been championed by mental health advocates, but a new study casts doubt on its efficacy.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study was conducted by Joanne Klevens and other physicians affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations in Atlanta and Chicago.

The study divided over 2,000 women into three groups. One group completed a computer questionnaire about domestic violence and then was referred to a list of local abuse organizations. One-third of the women did not undergo the screening, but still received the list of organizations. The remaining third received no screening and no list.

The women were predominantly African-American or Latina, with 92 percent of participants falling into either or both of those categories. Of the group, 57 percent of women's education ended with high school, 57 percent were uninsured, and the average age was 39 years old. One in seven of the women had experienced violence from their intimate partner before the start of the study.

One year later, researchers conducted follow-up interviews. Women who had received the screening reported no significant differences in the quality of their lives or in their mental health levels. In addition, within the one in seven women who had experienced domestic violence, there was no statistically significant change over the course of a year, regardless of whether they had been screened or not.

Learning about domestic violence resources did not affect participants' ability to perform housework, hospitalizations, emergency department visits, or ambulatory care visits, contact of local domestic violence organizations, or amount of time that they had been abused.

What accounts for the difference – or rather lack thereof? Klevens told Reuters Health that "just providing passive referral resources is not enough."

In the meantime, the study authors say that doctors should continue asking women about their history of domestic violence and providing contact information for resources in their local community, until psychologists are less stumped about how to alleviate this problem.