Violence against emergency room physicians is on the rise, survey finds

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Violence against physicians in emergency centers is surging, mirroring attacks against healthcare workers in general, according to a poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

More than eight in 10 emergency physicians reported that the rate of violence in their workplaces has increased, with 45% noting a spike in incidents in the past five years, ACEP said in a survey published on Thursday. The study included responses from 2,712 physicians collected between July and August of 2022.

Alex Skog, president-elect of ACEP’s Oregon chapter, recounted an incident when “a patient’s family member with a gun holster on his hip threatened to kill me and kill my entire family after I told his father that he needed to be admitted because he had coronavirus,” he said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

“I’ve been scared for my safety as well as the safety of my family,” Skog said. “That was just not something that we were seeing three, four or five years ago.”

Recent attacks on healthcare workers have made headlines, including an incident on Tuesday where an employee at Mission Community Hospital in Los Angeles was approached in the lobby then stabbed multiple times before the assailant fled on foot, according to a press release from the Los Angeles Police Department.

In June, an Oklahoma man who blamed back pain on his surgeon brought an AR-15 rifle and opened fire at his medical office, killing the doctor and three others before taking his own life, according to news reports.

The ACEP poll found that two-thirds of physicians in emergency departments reported being assaulted in the past year alone, while more than a third said they have been assaulted on the job more than once, the survey found.

In addition, almost 70% of respondents said that COVID-19 has decreased the level of trust between patients and physicians or emergency department staff.

Workers in the healthcare and social service industries experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence and are five times more likely to get injured at work than workers overall, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those incidents have risen nearly every year for healthcare workers since the BLS began tracking them in 2011.

Such violence can range from verbal abuse and threats to physical violence and even homicide and no federal regulations exist directly addressing it.

ACEP and other similar groups recently have renewed their efforts for stronger regulations to protect healthcare workers from violence on the job.

ACEP has said it wants Congress to pass the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, a Senate companion to a bill that passed the House last April with bipartisan support.

That bill would require hospitals to develop comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans mandated through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

ACEP also supports firmer penalties for assailants, along with other groups like the American Hospital Association. The AHA earlier this year called on the Department of Justice to take a tougher stance on violence against healthcare workers by protecting them like airline staff who have also seen more unruly passengers and violent incidents during the pandemic.

Some states also have their own laws penalizing offenders who commit violence against healthcare workers.

A lack of consequences and accountability for assailants “is unfortunately believed to be a significant contributor to the rise of violence since 2018,” Chris Kang, ACEP’s president-elect, said on the call.

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