Violence In Healthcare: What You Can Do To Prepare And Protect Yourself

Here are the startling facts…

Healthcare workers are four times more likely to encounter violence in the workplace than those in other industries (OSHA).

Threats to worker safety come in many forms and from different sources. They include:

  • Patients and their family members
  • Employees and coworkers
  • Other visitors to the clinic
  • Intruders and burglars
  • Events unfolding nearby, e., robberies, shootings, riots

Healthcare workers may find themselves under attack from verbal harassment or threats, bullying, and physical attacks.

In some cases, they are threatened with a weapon or held against their will.

In some instances, healthcare workers discover they are being followed, stalked, and live in fear of what will happen to them.

Why does this happen?

Of course, the causes are multifactorial. And it’s tempting to explore why we would see any violence in healthcare at all when healthcare workers do their best to help their fellow man!

However, focusing on “Why” won’t help us plan and prepare for the potential of violence in our workplace, so that we can take steps to protect ourselves.

Sadly, there is no way you can shield yourself against the potential for violence. The reality is that violent events could unfold at any clinic, at any time.

However, what you can do is assess and plan, so you and your staff are prepared and know what to do when it happens.

Assess Your Risk


While some practices may be at higher risk than others, no office is entirely safe or immune to the threat of violence.

Barbara recalls a few incidents that could have sparked a violent encounter while operating her pain practice.

“Frequently, certain patients demanded more narcotics than medically necessary; of course, I didn’t give in to their demands.

But on occasion, some got so upset with me, that I started to worry about what they might do and how I could protect myself.”

Consider this…

People come to your office for medical help because something is wrong or not going well. And when they’re in pain or faced with a life-altering diagnosis, emotions can run high, and logic goes out the window.

However, frequently that’s not the only contributing factor. In addition to medical issues, people might be under financial, relationship, or job stress, which might contribute to the development of explosive situations.

Ask yourself if the nature of your practice might increase the risk for violent encounters and to what extent.

While you can’t control what might happen in your practice, you can plan for what you will do in certain situations. 


The risk for violence originating from patients is one concern; another one might relate to the physical layout of your office and office building.

Look around your office and assess how well you or your staff can determine what goes on. Is anything blocking your view?

Can you see and hear when someone is entering and leaving your office? Do you have a good view of your waiting area and can see what’s going on?

How is the lighting in your office building? Is it adequate or are there dimly lit corners or hallways?

How is the lighting outside your office? Do you feel safe when leaving at night? Or do you find yourself looking over your shoulder, hurrying to get in your car?

And what about access to the building? Is the building locked at a particular time each night, or does it stay open until the last person leaves for the day?

What To Do…

The above concerns are just some of the question you want to include when assessing your risk.

Create a list of questions tailored to the specifics of your practice. Next, do a walkthrough of your space to determine its safety. Do you find it to be safe for your patients, your staff, and yourself?

Are there:

  • Adequate locks to secure your space and building
  • Clear protocols for securing the building
  • Clear protocols for after hour access
  • Good lighting indoors and outdoors

If you find there is a lack of basic safety features, talk to your landlord to make the necessary modifications. 


Assessing your risk for a violent event is one thing, knowing what to do when it happens, is another thing altogether.

And this is where planning comes into place.

Sit down and take the time to think about the unthinkable!

What would you do if…?

  • A patient is yelling, hurling insults at you or your staff?
  • A patient verbally or physically threatens you or your staff?
  • A patient hits you, or one of your staff?
  • One of your employees is threatening you?

The scenarios of what could happen are endless!

So here is what you can do to prepare yourself. And if you have employees, make sure to include them in this exercise.

Go through past events in your clinic. Identify all situations that had the makings of turning into a violent incident.

Past Events

Make a list of the events, issues, and the people involved. Also, include how each situation was resolved.

From there, create a template, a policy of how you or your staff will attempt to respond in the event of…

The first objective should always be trying to defuse a volatile situation, one that has the potential to turn into a violent encounter.

The next objective should be identifying steps you can take to protect yourself, your staff, and other patients in the office.

It may include:

  • Calling the police to intervene in an altercation
  • Locking your office when you’re working alone or after hours
  • Installing a secret button, pressed when you need help
  • Installing a security system
  • Creating a “Zero Aggression Tolerance” policy and posting if
  • Dismissing patients from your practice at the first sign of trouble
  • Enforcing proper behavior from your staff

In Summary…

As so often, an ounce of prevention goes a long way; unfortunately, though, it’s not a guarantee.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers violence in healthcare a serious problem. In response, the agency has developed a few programs.

I encourage you to take advantage of the resources OSHA has available, starting with: “Caring for Our Caregivers” and “Workplace Violence.”

While I hope you will never face violence in your workplace, I encourage you to think and plan ahead.

Prepare, so you know what you would do when…


Join the conversation! Share your experiences with your peers by leaving your comment below!


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.



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