Education and training for preventing and minimizing workplace aggression directed toward healthcare workers

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 Sep 8;9(9):CD011860. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011860.pub2.


Background: Workplace aggression constitutes a serious issue for healthcare workers and organizations. Aggression is tied to physical and mental health issues at an individual level, as well as to absenteeism, decreased productivity or quality of work, and high employee turnover rates at an organizational level. To counteract these negative impacts, organizations have used a variety of interventions, including education and training, to provide workers with the knowledge and skills needed to prevent aggression. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness of education and training interventions that aim to prevent and minimize workplace aggression directed toward healthcare workers by patients and patient advocates.

Search methods: CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, six other databases and five trial registers were searched from their inception to June 2020 together with reference checking, citation searching and contact with study authors to identify additional studies.

Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), cluster-randomized controlled trials (CRCTs), and controlled before and after studies (CBAs) that investigated the effectiveness of education and training interventions targeting aggression prevention for healthcare workers.

Data collection and analysis: Four review authors evaluated and selected the studies resulting from the search. We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. We assessed the certainty of evidence using the GRADE approach.

Main results: We included nine studies-four CRCTs, three RCTs, and two CBAs-with a total of 1688 participants. Five studies reported episodes of aggression, and six studies reported secondary outcomes. Seven studies were conducted among nurses or nurse aides, and two studies among healthcare workers in general. Three studies took place in long-term care, two in the psychiatric ward, and four in hospitals or health centers. Studies were reported from the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and Sweden. All included studies reported on education combined with training interventions. Four studies evaluated online programs, and five evaluated face-to-face programs. Five studies were of long duration (up to 52 weeks), and four studies were of short duration. Eight studies had short-term follow-up (< 3 months), and one study long-term follow-up (> 1 year). Seven studies were rated as being at "high" risk of bias in multiple domains, and all had "unclear" risk of bias in a single domain or in multiple domains. Effects on aggression Short-term follow-up The evidence is very uncertain about effects of education and training on aggression at short-term follow-up compared to no intervention (standardized mean difference [SMD] -0.33, 95% confidence interval [CI] -1.27 to 0.61, 2 CRCTs; risk ratio [RR] 2.30, 95% CI 0.97 to 5.42, 1 CBA; SMD -1.24, 95% CI -2.16 to -0.33, 1 CBA; very low-certainty evidence). Long-term follow-up Education may not reduce aggression compared to no intervention in the long term (RR 1.14, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.37, 1 CRCT; low-certainty evidence). Effects on knowledge, attitudes, skills, and adverse outcomes Education may increase personal knowledge about workplace aggression at short-term follow-up (SMD 0.86, 95% CI 0.34 to 1.38, 1 RCT; low-certainty evidence). The evidence is very uncertain about effects of education on personal knowledge in the long term (RR 1.26, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.75, 1 RCT; very low-certainty evidence). Education may improve attitudes among healthcare workers at short-term follow-up, but the evidence is very uncertain (SMD 0.59, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.94, 2 CRCTs and 3 RCTs; very low-certainty evidence). The type and duration of interventions resulted in different sizes of effects. Education may not have an effect on skills related to workplace aggression (SMD 0.21, 95% CI -0.07 to 0.49, 1 RCT and 1 CRCT; very low-certainty evidence) nor on adverse personal outcomes, but the evidence is very uncertain (SMD -0.31, 95% CI -1.02 to 0.40, 1 RCT; very low-certainty evidence). Measurements of these concepts showed high heterogeneity.

Authors' conclusions: Education combined with training may not have an effect on workplace aggression directed toward healthcare workers, even though education and training may increase personal knowledge and positive attitudes. Better quality studies that focus on specific settings of healthcare work where exposure to patient aggression is high are needed. Moreover, as most studies have assessed episodes of aggression toward nurses, future studies should include other types of healthcare workers who are also victims of aggression in the same settings, such as orderlies (healthcare assistants). Studies should especially use reports of aggression at an institutional level and should rely on multi-source data while relying on validated measures. Studies should also include days lost to sick leave and employee turnover and should measure outcomes at one-year follow-up. Studies should specify the duration and type of delivery of education and should use an active comparison to prevent raising awareness and reporting in the intervention group only.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Bias
  • Controlled Before-After Studies
  • Exposure to Violence / prevention & control
  • Health Personnel / education*
  • Humans
  • Nursing Assistants / education
  • Nursing Staff / education
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Workplace Violence / prevention & control*