Workplace Violence in Healthcare: Digital Technology Can Help

Hospitals are places people go to with the hopes of getting better, of recovering from injury or illness. And it is the hospital staff — nurses and other members of the care team — who steadfastly work to provide a safe and healing environment for patients. Unfortunately, the hospital is not always a safe place. Incidents of workplace violence among healthcare workers has continued to climb since the the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking them just more than a decade ago in 2011.

Healthcare sees increasing incidents of workplace violence since COVID-19 pandemic

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare workers accounted for 73% of all nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses due to violence in 2018. Moreover, the rate of injuries from workplace violence against medical professionals grew by 63% from 2011 to 2018, according to the BLS. Nurses often bear the brunt of workplace violence, with an average of 57 nurses being assaulted every day, according to a Press Ganey analysis. 

Incidents of workplace violence have only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the American Hospital Association stating “the pandemic has placed significant stress on the entire healthcare system, and unfortunately, in some situations, patients, visitors, and family members have attacked healthcare staff and jeopardized our workforce’s ability to provide care.”

The stress that the pandemic placed on everyone has lowered thresholds for patience, and prolonged periods of social distancing or isolation have negatively impacted the mental health of many. The healthcare workforce — in particular nurses — saw significant attrition during the pandemic and since, with a historic staffing shortage leaving resources strapped and increasing the likelihood of overworked and stressed staff finding themselves in unsafe conditions.

Calls for protection against workplace violence

In the wake of significant increases in workplace violence, the Joint Commission revised its workplace prevention standards in January 2021, defining workplace violence as “An act or threat occurring at the workplace that can include any of the following: verbal, nonverbal, written, or physical aggression; threatening, intimidating, harassing, or humiliating words or actions; bullying; sabotage; sexual harassment; physical assaults; or other behaviors of concern involving staff, licensed practitioners, patients, or visitors.” 

While workplace violence certainly isn’t a concern unique to the healthcare field, the disproportionate impact is worrying and has caused many organizations to call for change. For instance, the American Hospital Association has called for Congress to enact the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act. This would provide protections for healthcare workers that are similar to those in place for airline flight crews, flight attendants, and other airport workers.

CMS has also reminded hospitals that it is their duty to protect workers from workplace violence. In November 2022, CMS released a memo reasserting that “Medicare certified hospitals have a regulatory obligation to care for patients in a safe setting under the Medicare Hospital Conditions of Participation” and noted that hospitals have been fined for failing to meet these obligations.

Creating a culture of safety through digital engagement technology

Given the widespread issue of workplace violence, no single intervention or policy will fully mitigate the issue. However, digital and smart technology, including Get Well’s digital engagement technology, can help reduce the risk of errors, increase transparency, and improve communication, which can all help to curb violent incidents. 

Communicating about expectations for patients and their families can help set the stage for a safe environment and can be done through a solution like GetWell Inpatient. Customizable prompts that appear on patient engagement technology, such as TVs or mobile devices can alert patients and their families and loved ones that no physical or verbal violence will be tolerated. Such prompts can be used throughout the hospital or targeted on high-risk units or with patients displaying violent behavior to capture and report on patient acknowledgement of the existing unit code of conduct. In a similar manner, digital signage can be used to indicate a room where there is a potentially aggressive or violent patient.

Get Well also has a vast library of third-party content, including movies and television shows, relaxation videos, meditation guides, children’s videos, and more to help promote health and wellness and provide a welcome distraction during an in-patient stay.  

Likewise, rounding tools that are integrated into the EHR can identify patients who are displaying signs of violence or for whom there are any safety risk indicators and alert staff before they even enter a patient’s room. These tools can also be used for regulatory survey preparation and post incidence huddles.

This same technology can be used to create facility-wide notifications to alert entire floors, units, or facilities if there is an issue or critical event, letting them know what they should do or where they should report during an incident. Alerts can be customized to current hospital codes to ensure any information communicated via these alerts is immediately understood by the staff. 

Empower patients before and during their hospital to help prevent violence against staff

While the very nature of the job means that healthcare workers frequently encounter patients who may have psychological or physical challenges that can increase the risk of them being violent, sometimes, violent outbreaks occur because patients or their loved ones feel helpless and without control over their environment. 

Digital engagement technology can help empower patients and enable them to self-manage many aspects of their care, which can help restore some calm and reduce the risk of a violent incident. Real-time location system (RTLS) technology can serve as a way to share identifying information of the care team, such as their picture, title, name, the department where they work and other messages, which can all help personalize the care interaction. In addition, automated service requests can connect patients directly to concierge services and patient advocates, helping to resolve issues faster and alleviating frustration and stress.  

Communicating with patients ahead of a planned hospital stay can also help. GetWell Loop offers patient care journeys that help care teams improve the readiness of patients, communicate hospital policies and safety practices and guidelines, and manage the expectations of both patients and those who care for them. Preparing a patient for their stay and ensuring they have a clear idea of what to expect helps to reduce the risk of frustration and anger, which can lead to violent behavior. 

Bottom line

Workplace violence in healthcare settings, while increasingly common, is not inevitable, and there are steps an organization can take to help mitigate incidents. Ensuring workplace safety is a priority for leaders across the organization and leveraging digital engagement technology that delivers personalized care experiences and helps patients connect can go a long way toward preventing workplace violence.

To learn more about how Get Well can help, download our workplace incivility toolkit: Using digital technology to address workplace violence. 

Authored by LouAnn Bala, VP Content Strategy & Clinical Programs, Jennifer Taylor, Senior Clinical Consultant, and Katherine Virkstis, VP of Clinical Advisory Services