The stories grabbed headlines during the pandemic: Violent episodes in U.S. emergency rooms where patients attacked doctors.
Now, a new poll shows just how widespread the problem has become: Two-thirds of emergency physicians reported being assaulted in the past year alone, while more than one-third of respondents said they have been assaulted more than once. Even worse, about 80% of emergency physicians reported an increasing rate of violence, with 45% saying it had “greatly increased” over the past five years.
“Violence in the emergency department continues to threaten and harm emergency physicians and patients,” said Dr. Chris Kang, president-elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), which conducted the poll. “Over the past five years, emergency physicians have witnessed and experienced a steady increase in assaults made worse by the pandemic. This report underscores how attacks on emergency physicians, care teams and staff are rampant and must be addressed.”
The findings, gathered in 2022, update a similar poll taken in 2018.
“Emergency physicians should not have to compromise their duty to care for patients because of their injuries and worries about their personal safety,” Kang said in an ACEP news release. “In addition to physical risks, the persistent threat of violence detracts from patient care and contributes significantly to emergency physicians' mental health challenges and burnout.”
COVID-19 has had an impact, chilling trust while increasing violence between patients, the care team and staff, according to the ACEP.
About two-thirds of emergency physicians said they believed the pandemic had triggered an increase in the amount of violence in emergency departments. About 69% said the pandemic had decreased the level of trust between patients and emergency department staff.
The violence has had a negative impact on patient care, according to 89% of those surveyed. How? It has increased wait times, and has led to patients leaving the emergency department without being seen by a doctor.
About 87% of emergency physicians said they had lost productivity because of the violence, while 85% reported emotional trauma and an increase in anxiety.
“As emergency departments are no longer respected as safe zones, inadequate protections for emergency medical professionals and staff, and patients, combined with insufficient accountability from hospitals, communities and assailants, can only encourage violence to continue,” Kang said. “We must do more to make sure that physicians and staff can perform their duties without needing to worry about threats to their well-being or safety.”
The poll included 2,712 U.S. emergency physicians and was conducted online between July 25 and Aug. 1.
The American Medical Association has more on violence against doctors.
SOURCE: American College of Emergency Physicians, news release, Sept. 22, 2022