Violence Against Doctors: It happens more than you think

assault poll

An astonishing 71 percent of physicians say they were verbally and/or physically assaulted by a patient at some point in their careers according to a recent SERMOpoll.  If anything, violence against doctors seems to be increasing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care workers are assaulted at a rate of 146 per 10,000 workers in a given year. This compares to a national average of only seven assaults per 10,000 workers.

While 71 percent of physicians overall reported assault, the numbers vary greatly by specialty:

  • Emergency Medicine: 93%
  • Psychiatry: 90%
  • Family Practice: 78%
  • Internal Medicine: 71%
  • Pediatrics: 64%

Here is the full breakdown of the poll for all physicians: Have you ever been assaulted?

  • 44%    Yes, verbally
  • 29%    Never
  • 22%    Both
  •   5%    Yes, physically

As seen from the breakdown above, one of the toughest specialties to work in is Emergency Medicine. In a study of 96 hospitals, 34 percent reported a rise in patient and family violence in the ER, while 29 percent reported an uptick in patient and family violence against other staff.

Charges Often Not Filed

A physician posted on SERMO about a violent incident he was involved with in a lockdown psychiatric ward with a patient with a “shiv.” He attempted to press charges against the patient but neither the facility nor the local police supported the decision.

Another psychiatrist wrote, “In the best of places, the docs rally together and push the DA to press charges even if the hospital doesn’t want to consider it. I have several times done an immediate MSE/competency exam on a patient that assaulted a colleague with the explicit goal of determining if we should press charges.”

Decreasing Assaults

Should doctors have training to protect themselves from possible assault? An article in LaborNotes, an online site for nurses, suggested four steps to improve safety.

  1. Improve hospital reporting of assaults
  2. Improve training for violence prevention
  3. Boost security personnel and other security measures in hospital settings
  4. Regulation to hold hospitals accountable for violent behavior by patients

How this Impacts Healthcare

The last thing anyone wants, is health care workers who are afraid to go to work. The impact in workdays lost, on the job stress, and practicing “defensive medicine” are taking a toll on the medical system.

As a physician how do you handle assault from patients? Have you found an effective way to diffuse situations before they get out of hand? Have you ever had difficulty working with police when a patient attacks you or staff? We will discuss this in detail inside SERMO. Please join us.

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