Patient attacks on doctors and nurses are more frequent

With the attention focused, rightly, on patient safety, what about health care workers?

It’s somewhat of a hidden phenomenon, but attacks on doctors and nurses are on the rise.

Rahul Parikh writes about this in a recent Slate piece. He cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found “health care workers are twice as likely as those in other fields to experience an injury from a violent act at work, with nurses being the most common victims.”

He goes on to detail an attack on a physician who initially refused to give his patient opioid pain medications:

Mansfield’s attacker wanted pain killers. “I need you to give me more Percocets, given the shape I’m in after what I’ve been through,” the patient said in a soft but gravelly voice. What I’ve been through apparently referred to a grudge he held against an orthopedic surgeon whose rough examination exacerbated his neck pain. Mansfield says, “[H]e tried to reproduce the ‘painful range of motion exam’ on me, such that if I knew how painful it was—I would understand how much he needed the Percocet.”

Much of teaching on how to avoid potentially violent situations are ineffective in the long term. That leads to more extreme solutions — like carrying a gun.

Indeed, according to a survey conducted in 2005, 40 percent of emergency physicians admitted to carrying a gun. That seems like an incredibly high number to me.

Just like we should be concerned about patient safety, the safety of health care workers is no less important. That means doctors and nurses need to tell their stories and bring this issue to light.

And in the case where patients attack doctors or nurses, getting the police involved and pressing charges is an option that needs to be seriously considered.