Experiences of Individuals Who Were Physically Restrained in the Emergency Department

JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Jan 3;3(1):e1919381. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.19381.


Importance: Individuals with behavioral disorders are increasingly presenting to the emergency department (ED), and associated episodes of agitation can cause significant safety threats to patients and the staff caring for them. Treatment includes the use of physical restraints, which may be associated with injuries and psychological trauma; to date, little is known regarding the perceptions of the use of physical restraint among individuals who experienced it in the ED.

Objective: To characterize how individuals experience episodes of physical restraint during their ED visits.

Design, setting, and participants: In this qualitative study, semistructured, 1-on-1, in-depth interviews were conducted with 25 adults (ie, aged 18 years or older) with a diverse range of chief concerns and socioeconomic backgrounds who had a physical restraint order associated with an ED visit. Eligible visits included those presenting to 2 EDs in an urban Northeast city between March 2016 and February 2018. Data analysis occurred between July 2017 and June 2018.

Main outcomes and measures: Basic participant demographic information, self-reported responses to the MacArthur Perceived Coercion Scale, and experiences of physical restraint in the ED.

Results: Data saturation was reached with 25 interviews (17 [68%] men; 18 [72%] white; 19 [76%] non-Hispanic). The time between the patient's last restraint and the interview ranged from less than 2 weeks to more than 6 months. Of those interviewed, 22 (88%) reported a combination of mental illness and/or substance use as contributing to their restraint experience. Most patients (20 [80%]) said that they felt coerced to present to the ED. Three primary themes were identified from interviews, as follows: (1) harmful experiences of restraint use and care provision, (2) diverse and complex personal contexts affecting visits to the ED, and (3) challenges in resolving their restraint experiences, leading to negative consequences on well-being.

Conclusions and relevance: In this qualitative study, participants described a desire for compassion and therapeutic engagement, even after they experienced coercion and physical restraint during their visits that created lasting negative consequences. Future work may need to consider more patient-centered approaches that minimize harm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Coercion
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Agitation / psychology
  • Psychomotor Agitation / therapy*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Restraint, Physical / adverse effects
  • Restraint, Physical / psychology*
  • Young Adult