Majority of staff at one ED experienced assault in last 12 months, survey finds

Physician residents in emergency departments are particularly vulnerable to physical or verbal assault, survey findings published June 22 in Annals of Emergency Medicine suggest. 

To conduct the study, researchers from the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a survey to 123 physicians, residents and staff at a North Carolina emergency department between November and December 2019. 

Overall, 80 percent of respondents said they experienced verbal assault by a patient at least once in the last year, including 89 percent of residents. 

More key findings:  

1. Seventy percent of all respondents and 74 percent of residents said they experienced verbal assault multiple times over the last year. 

2. Thirty-four percent of all respondents, including 22 percent of residents, said they experienced physical assault in the last 12 months. 

3. Fifty-three percent of respondents who experienced physical assault or violence said they only discussed the incident with colleagues, 20 percent said they filed a formal incident report with the hospital or police, while 19 percent didn't discuss the encounter with anyone. 

4. Broken down by residents, 96 percent of those who experienced physical assault or violence said they discussed it with a colleague only or not at all. None filed formal incident reports with their hospital or the police. 

5. Just 24 percent of resident respondents believed their workplace had adequate violence safety protocols, 38 percent were unsure, 30 percent didn't believe the protocols went far enough and 8 percent were unfamiliar with them. 

"More can be done to make sure that every member of the emergency care team can prioritize patient care rather than worrying about their own safety at work," RJ Sontag, MD, president of the Emergency Medicine Residents' Association, said in a news release. "This study looks at one emergency department but stories like these are common nationwide. We must empower residents and others to report these incidents and take the necessary steps to protect health care workers and patients."

Dr. Sontag was not involved with the research.

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