Introduction: This study investigated nurse perceptions of the incidence and nature of verbal and physical assault or abuse by patients and their family members or visitors.
Methods: A survey was given to ED, ICU, and general floor nurses in a 770-bed acute care north Florida medical center.
Results: The response rate was 68.8% (86 out of 125). Large percentages of nurses reported being victims of verbal assault or abuse and physical assault by patients and family members or visitors; 88% reported being verbally assaulted and 74% reported being physically assaulted while at work in the past year. ED nurses reported the highest rates of these incidences, with 100% reporting verbal assault and 82.1% reporting physical assault within the past year. Assaults were most commonly perpetrated by patients with cognitive dysfunction (79.1%), patients with substance abuse (60.5%), and persons who were angry because of the patient's condition (55.8%). Surprising information: the most common causes of assault by family members and visitors were anger related to enforcement of hospital policies (58.1%), anger related to the patient's condition/situation (57%), anger related to long wait times (47.7%), and anger related to the health care system in general (46.5%).
Discussion: Nurses were confused about what legally constitutes "assault" and "abuse"; nurse rights versus patient rights; and policies and procedures for reporting assault or abuse incidences. Our results indicate that nurses are experiencing abusive and assaultive behavior from family members and visitors just as often as they are from patients, and ED nurses are at higher risk. Nurses perceive a lack of institutional support and an institutional emphasis on patient rights and satisfaction and do not feel safe in the workplace.