- Violence in U.S. emergency rooms is on the rise, with 47% of ER doctors reporting they had been physically assaulted while at work at some point in their career. Of those, 60% said an assault had occurred within the past year, according to a new American College of Emergency Physicians survey.
- About 80% of physicians say violence in the ER impacted patient care, and more half of those say patients were physically harmed.
- Nearly 70% of respondents say their hospital reported the incident, but just 3% of hospital security teams pressed charges.
Violence or the threat of violence is all too real in hospitals today. In 2015, a gunman shot and killed a cardiovascular surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The suspect was believed to have been angry over the hospital's treatment of his mother, who had died the previous year.
Just last week, a man opened fire inside Ellenville Regional Hospital north of New York City, then fled in a vehicle, setting off a statewide manhunt. No one was injured in the shooting. And on Monday, police shot and killed a patient at Orlando Regional Medical Center after he warned ER staff he was armed and would shoot anyone who approached him. The man was later found to be unarmed.
Nearly seven in 10 of those surveyed believe violence is a bigger problem than five years ago, with 25% reporting a serious uptick in incidents. Of physicians who were assaulted in the past year, 27% say it happened more than once and almost a third say they were injured in an assault. Nearly all (97%) report being attacked by a patient, while 28% say they have been assaulted by a relative or friend of a patient.
In addition, nearly three-fourths of ER physicians have witnessed someone else being assaulted at work, and eight in 10 say a patient threatened to return and harm them or a member of the ER staff, according to the report.
Roughly half of respondents say their hospitals could create a safer workplace adding metal detectors, security cameras and security guards inside the facility and in parking lots. The also recommend more visitor screening, particularly in the ER.
"More needs to be done" to prevent violence in ERs, ACEP President Vidor Friedman said in a statement. "When violence occurs in an emergency department, patients can be injured or traumatized to the point of leaving without being seen. It also can increase wait times and distract emergency staff from focusing on other patients who urgently require a physician’s assistance."
Substance abuse is a major factor in assaults. According to ACEP, half of ER doctors say alcohol or drugs play a role in half of all assaults. The most common assault is a hit or a slap (44%). Physicians also report being punched, kicked and spit upon.