Violence in the Emergency Department
H. Derazon, S. Nissimian, C. Yosefy, R. Peled, E. Hay
Dept. of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology Unit, Barzilai Medical Center, Ashkelon
There is an international epidemic of violence in the emergency department (ED) which threatens medical staff daily. The problem is underestimated in Israel and there are as yet no regulations of the Ministry of Health and the Bureau of Security and Safety that deal with the problem.
At the beginning of 1997 we conducted a retrospective survey to estimate the extent of this problem and to define its causes and the various options for management. An anony-mous questionnaire was given to all permanent workers of our ED: physicians, nurses and reception clerks, as well as physicians who worked in the ED during evening and night shifts at least twice a week.
74% of (questionnaire) responders experienced violent events, most of them 5 or more times during the previous 2 years. Violence was experienced by 90% of nurses, 70% of physicians and 64% of clerks. The main reason for violence was prolonged waiting in the ED. Other causes were dissatisfaction with treatment, refusal to leave the ED, and language that displeased the patient.
Most violent patients were middle-aged men, of whom alcohol and drug users were only a small proportion. Most victims of physical violence called hospital security personnel, but only a third of the victims of verbal violence pressed charges. Half of the staff who were physically attacked called the police and most pressed charges. Only 2 attackers were convicted; charges were dropped against 3 because of "lack of public concern." We were unable to ascertain the results of the other charges. Most victims of violence didn't press charges because of fear resulting from threats of the patient and/or family.
The violent patient was usually characterized by responders as a middle-aged man, sober, of low socioeconomic level, impatient, with a bad previous hospital experience, dissatisfied with treatment and who insisted on being admitted to hospital.
Suggestions for violence management by questionnaire- responders included 24-hour police protection and a training program in violence management for hospital security and medical staff.