Patient complaints could forecast violence against nurses, study shows

Patient and family member complaints are "directly related" to increased reports of both emotional abuse and physical violence against nurses in the workplace, according to a study published in Nursing Open.

Researchers examined the results of the B.C. Nurses' Workload Impact Study, which includes data from 528 nurses working in medical-surgical settings in British Columbia, Canada. The researchers studied workload factors, such as the number of tasks nurses say they left unfinished during their last shift, patient complaints and reports of emotional and physical abuse of nurses.

Researchers found that nurses received an average of one patient complaint against them a month, and the rate of reports of emotional and physical abuse toward nurses was about the same.

Additionally, researchers found that workload factors were also linked to violence. For example, an inability to finish tasks during a shift were linked to increased reports of both physical and emotional violence.

"What we think happens is a spiral of aggression is created. Patients get frustrated by what they see as poor quality performance — often caused by factors such as staff shortages and large workloads," said study author Farinaz Havaei, RN, PhD, an assistant professor of nursing at University of British Columbia. "They respond initially with complaints, and if those complaints aren't addressed in a timely manner, they can then escalate into more serious acts of aggression."

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