Lab Coats With Bullseyes on Them? Protecting Yourself Against Violence

Gregory A. Hood, MD


July 29, 2016

In This Article

The Numbers Are Distressing

Take a look at these statistics from studies cited in the New England Journal of Medicine article, which were reported in a recent Medscape story[5]:

  • Almost 75% of all workplace assaults between 2011 and 2013 happened in healthcare settings;

  • 80% of emergency medical workers will experience violence during their careers;

  • 78% of emergency department physicians nationwide report being the target of workplace violence in the past year;

  • 100% of emergency department nurses report verbal assault and 82.1% report physical assault during the past year;

  • 40% of psychiatrists report physical assault;

  • The rate of workplace violence among psychiatric aides is 69 times higher than the national rate of workplace violence;

  • 61% of home healthcare workers report violence annually; and

  • Family physicians are also at high risk, although limited data exist in the outpatient setting.

Physicians and healthcare providers are trained to help people, compassionately. As a result, highly inappropriate behavior and threats are often ignored and don't receive the attention that they deserve. As Dr Phillips stated in his interview, "One reason health care providers are reluctant to report these is that we have compassion for our patients, and we don't want to treat patients like they're criminals or the enemy, so we probably make excuses when we shouldn't, and we overlook patients who are intoxicated or on drugs, and other patients who have altered mental status because of chronic dementia or acute delirium. They are already vulnerable, and we don't want to treat them as if they are criminals."

So far, attacks in healthcare settings have been overwhelmingly directed against preselected individuals. However, this may not always be the case. Although there are layers of security and law enforcement present both within and very nearby to most healthcare facilities, the continued emergence of mental health issues and radicalism in the world seems to raise the question of when, not if, a mass casualty assault in a medical facility will occur. Unfortunately, it can become too easy to envision such explosions as the one that happened on July 7 at the hospital in Annonay, France, as being caused by terrorists instead of resulting from an accident (which turned out to be the actual cause).


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