A 2022 study by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) aimed to understand how many emergency health care providers have been exposed to violent incidents. Results showed that over half (55%) of emergency room physicians have personally been assaulted at work, and 79% have witnessed someone else be a victim of assault.
These numbers have grown quite a bit since the last survey was taken in 2018, as the cases in each category have increased 8% across four years. As a result, the overall incidence of assaults is growing steadily enough that 36% of respondents reported experiencing more than one assault in the past year.
Violence, including physical and verbal attacks, can occur in the ER for various reasons. Patients who act out with violence might experience social isolation and struggle to express their health-related frustrations in a more productive manner. Attacks may also be more common with patients who consistently experience barriers to care, such as long wait times, overwhelmed providers, and staffing shortages. Additionally, some individuals may present to the ER with behavioral and/or substance-related concerns, which can increase the likelihood of violence.
The World Health Organization reported a 25% increase in the global prevalence of depression and anxiety in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. This data is consistent with the reports of many respondents who participated in the ACEP study: 66% of emergency department physicians expressed the belief that growing violence in the ER is due in part to the pandemic. Moreover, many of these same physicians reported that the pandemic caused patients to have less confidence in providers.
Provider networks and health care organizations stand to be impacted by this increase in violence. Such incidents negatively influence physician job satisfaction and can result in serious staff injuries. These concerns also contribute to health care provider burnout, which is already at an all-time high. Unmanaged violence in ERs ultimately decreases the number of patients receiving quality care.
Hospital responses to these incidents are critical in remediating violence, but prevention also plays a big part. Organizations should be able to collaborate with provider networks, insurance companies, and policymakers to implement programming that places equal emphasis on reducing violence before it happens and intervening appropriately when it does. Due to the costly outcomes of ER violence, including staff injuries, sub-standard patient outcomes, and higher provider burnout, reducing violence should be considered a top priority.