5 ways doctors can protect themselves from violence

Just this summer, a Dallas doctor who worked in a psychiatric hospital died as a result of a violent encounter with a patient. Ruth Anne MarDock, M.D., worked at Timberlawn Mental Health System when on June 30 a patient, who police said was upset because he heard he was being transferred to another facility, tackled the doctor and slammed her to the floor. She stuck her head and lost consciousness and died two days later from her injuries.

The fatal attack is further proof that doctors need to protect themselves against violence, writes Gregory A. Hood, M.D, an internist from Lexington, Kentucky, on Medscape. One of the reasons for increases in healthcare violence over the past several years is the fact doctors have cut down on prescribing controlled substances to patients, he says.

Despite the fact he is 6 feet tall and a former college athlete, “the truth is that I've been assaulted personally, and in other instances have been threatened and intimidated by patients,” says Hood, who has lectured dozens of physicians on how to deal with hostile patients and urged national medical organizations to increase awareness of the issue and train doctors

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So how can doctors protect themselves? Consider these recommendations from Hood:

Make it clear to patients that violence will not be tolerated. For instance, controlled substance agreements have become more standard and can include language that states inappropriate physical or verbal conduct by patients will not be tolerated and is grounds for permanent dismissal from the medical setting.

Make use of records to flag patients who are at risk of or have a past history of violent behavior. Make timely use of flag systems in paper or electronic health records to alert healthcare workers to potential problem patients.

Design your practice’s facility with security and safety features, which might include alarm systems, arranging furniture to create a physical barrier, and other protections. Have protocols in place that take into account different threats your practice might face. Check out a publication recently updated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration titled “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers.

Remember that your first reaction when faced with the threat of violence is to try and escape or evade an attack. “There's no gain from bravado in taking on a potential threat yourself,” Hood says. Get away from the attacker if you can and then alert law enforcement and others who could be hurt.

Be prepared to defend yourself, if you can’t escape an attack. Learn de-escalation techniques, which could potentially save a life. There are a wide number of options for martial arts training and personal defense techniques. Self-defense courses are offered both online and in person.

Healthcare workers have a greater chance of trying to reason with an attacker who turns violent spontaneously because of mental illness, drugs, or unexpected news of a loved one’s death, than with someone who has planned an attack beforehand, as FiercePracticeManagement reported.

Along with doctors, nurses are often a prime target for patient abuse, from abusive language to physical assaults.

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