Nurses' Questions About Guns Could Save Lives

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, April 9, 2013

The national debate over gun violence, firearms legislation, or gun control, (take your pick) is as fraught as the debate over what to call it in t he public square.

While headline–grabbing mass shootings provide recurring triggers for public conversation, there's much less talk about handguns, pistols, shotguns, and rifles in the emergency department, where the devastating effect of guns on human flesh and bone is front and center.

Even the simple question, "Do you have access to firearms?" is one that few nurses and physicians routinely ask suicidal patients. You've got to wonder why not since six in 10 firearm injury deaths in 2009 were suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control. What's more, 40% of suicide victims "visited an emergency department at least once and often many times" in the year before they died University of Colorado research shows.

Here's what we do know: Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine surveyed 631 emergency department doctors and nurses in eight American hospitals as part of the Emergency Department Safety Assessment and Follow-up Evaluation (ED-SAFE) trial. They found that the circumstances under which a nurse or doctor would 'almost always' ask suicidal patients about their access to firearms varies widely.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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