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Patient violence is a serious threat to health care workers

On Behalf of | Jun 17, 2022 | Workers' Compensation

Workplace violence is more common than many people realize. In fact, almost 25,000 assaults occur in workplaces each year. What may be even more surprising is the fact that about 75% of those assaults happen in healthcare setting such as hospitals. As if that’s not enough, doctors and nurses are also subjected to other forms of workplace violence, including verbal and emotional abuse and threats. This means that these professionals can be subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological harm in an environment that is supposed to be safe.

Making matters worse is the fact that this violence appears to be increasing in frequency. In fact, one study found that 70% of emergency room doctors think that violence is becoming more common in their places of work, and nearly half of them report being subjected to physical violence themselves.

Yet, only a small percentage of healthcare professionals who are subjected to violence actually report it. This could be because those in the healthcare profession seek to help people rather than send them to jail, but this hesitancy to report could increase the risk of others being harmed in the workplace.

Why do patients become violent?

There can be a lot of factors that contribute to workplace violence in the healthcare setting. For example, patients who attack doctors and nurses may be scared or upset by their diagnosis and course of treatment, or they may suffer from an adverse effect to medication that renders them irritable and more susceptible to violence.

Some have criticized the way that the healthcare system is designed, too, claiming that it contributes to workplace violence. These individuals argue that the healthcare system in America is no longer focused on wellness and preventative care, and is instead a system that leaves people with overwhelming financial obligations and stress, which can fuel violent behavior.

What about safety measures?

Although many healthcare settings have tried to address workplace safety, the sad reality is that these initiatives are usually reactionary in nature. As a result, healthcare workers continue to be subjected to violence, and there’s little being done to protect them. These individuals can be subjected to daily verbal abuse, and the threat of physical violence constantly lingers over them. In fact, this violence has become so prevalent that many healthcare workers simply view it as part of the job.

How violence is affecting healthcare professions

Workplace violence has a tremendous impact on workers and their profession. Even if you put physical safety aside, healthcare workers still face low morale and burnout as a result of consistent verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse and violence found in their places of work.

Even those who aren’t the direct subject of workplace violence can suffer. Witnessing an assault can damage one’s mental health, perhaps even leading to something as severe as post-traumatic stress disorder. This can have long-term consequences that may lead to dispassion for the profession and the need for long-term care.

What can be done?

Many hospitals are revamping their safety measures to try to protect doctors, nurses, and others who work in healthcare settings. This includes using apps that can quickly trigger a response team when a patient’s behavior escalates, but some find such efforts to be lacking in practicality when emergency situations arise. Greater use of security guards is becoming more common, too, even in smaller hospital settings.

However, some in the field believe that simple communication is the best preventative measure that healthcare professionals can utilize. When effective, strong communication can de-escalate a heated situation, thereby defusing the potential for any violent outbursts.

Of course, not every situation can be de-escalated. And the tragic reality is that workplace violence will likely continue to impact healthcare workers for a long time to come. Hopefully, though, more expanded use of safety precautions, more in-depth training, and better care outcomes can minimize your risk of being injured in your place of work.