Workplace Violence in Healthcare Explained

Healthcare professionals have been a pillar of strength in the fight against the global pandemic. They’ve worked around the clock, enduring long shifts, spending extended time away from their families, and often risking their own lives. But their work challenges are not just limited to these.

Every year, they get exposed to a staggering amount of safety threats because of violence and abuse encountered in their work environment. Workplace violence in nursing, for example, is affecting millions of professionals. According to reports, 25% of registered nurses have faced physical assault by patients or their families. And this is just based on reported incidents. Many other cases go unreported due to various reasons. So, the real magnitude of the issue could be much graver than what current data reveals.

The World Medical Association is calling violence against healthcare personnel “an international emergency”. This stands testimony to the sheer scale of the situation healthcare workers worldwide are currently facing. Strangely, though, it hasn’t yet attracted much public attention. Nevertheless, it remains a critical workplace issue that could potentially cripple the efficiency of our healthcare workforce. Eventually, its ripple effects will also extend to millions of people relying on them for their critical services.

A closer look at workplace violence in healthcare.

Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers could face different types of violence during work. These can range from shouting, cursing, threatening, and bullying to even physical attacks and sexual harassment. Verbal abuse is the most prevalent. It’s encountered three times more frequently than physical violence. According to one study, 79.5% of nurses have experienced verbal abuse, while 28.6% have faced physical attacks.

Dealing with such incidents on a constant basis could take a severe toll on medical workers’ mental and physical health. All these could add to the tremendous stress they are already enduring at work. The result could be absenteeism due to health reasons and even resignation from work. Studies show that 17.2% of nurses leave their jobs each year because of workplace violence. 

It’s not only harming a critical segment of our country’s workforce, but in the long term, it could place severe pressure on the already strained healthcare system.

Tackling workplace violence requires decisive action.

Workplace violence in healthcare is undeniably a critical issue that demands urgent attention and action. Unlike many of us, healthcare professionals deal with all segments of society. Their work requires close contact, and they provide their services regardless of a patient’s character or past criminal acts. So, taking deliberate steps to ensure their safety is critical.

Deploy strict security measures.

Security technology and equipment such as metal detectors, security cameras, and personal security alarms can go a long way to prevent workplace violence. They could significantly help minimize threats through early detection, warnings, and interventions. Experienced security staff trained in identifying and tackling such incidents is also critical.

Setting up security policies and systems is equally important. It can help create greater clarity and transparency in terms of detecting and handling incidents.

Set up reporting mechanisms.

Identifying and reporting workplace violence is essential to mitigating threats. It’ll allow healthcare providers to formally address concerns, follow up, take action, and even seek law enforcement and regulatory interventions. Maintaining records could also provide insightful data to help identify possible trends in violent incidents threatening healthcare personnel in a specific location. This could be valuable to unearth unseen issues and devise long-term strategies.

Technological solutions could also help bring ease, objectivity, and confidentiality to the reporting process. This could encourage more caregivers to raise their concerns and report incidents of violence.

Train employees.

Sometimes, patients could become violent and abusive due to their medical conditions. Nurses and doctors usually put up with inappropriate behaviors in such instances. But there’s a fine line between empathizing with patients and enduring abuse. Often, patients and their families are fully aware of their violent behaviors and are simply taking advantage of their caregivers’ silence.

So, training is important to keep healthcare personnel safe by helping them to identify and tackle workplace violence. Setting up personal safety and incident handling protocols and conducting regular training sessions could help mitigate threats more effectively.

Adopt measures to safeguard employee privacy

Patients and their families could even threaten nurses and doctors outside work. They could, for example, stalk or threaten their loved ones. So, protecting the privacy of healthcare workers would be essential to keep them safe from particularly violent individuals.

Today, a full name is enough to uncover deeply personal information. A bad actor could easily get hold of a medical worker’s home address and family details with a simple search on Google or a people search site. So, healthcare providers require stricter policies to ensure employee privacy and data security. They should also encourage staff to protect their data anonymity, both during and outside work.

“Some people come into the hospital and do worse than they would outside because they realize outside, they will get arrested and be held accountable. However, when they come into the hospital, they don’t”, a registered nurse told WebMD. Clearly, a reluctance to report incidents by employees and inaction by authorities could be a far greater issue in tackling workplace violence than we assume.

Regulatory action has certainly been slow to come by. But everyone, from the public and media to law enforcement, regulators, and healthcare organizations, has a role to play. The media must create greater awareness, and the public should drive more conversations around workplace violence in medical services. Healthcare providers must adopt stricter policies and practices in their organizations to protect their workforce. Meanwhile, regulators and legislators need to intervene, too. They must provide long-term solutions to safeguard both healthcare personnel and the healthcare system that their citizens rely upon to keep them healthy and productive.


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