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Should Doctors and Nurses Risk Their Lives During a Hospital Shooting?

News  |  By Debra Shute  
   August 17, 2017

“Healthcare professionals are realistically more aware of the danger” of violence in hospitals, researcher says.

While most members of the public regard hospitals as a safe haven, healthcare workers perceive higher levels of risk of vulnerability to an “active shooter” event or other forms of violence, according to a national survey conducted in March 2017 by the Hartford Consensus. 

The research, led by Lenworth M. Jacobs, Jr., MD, FACS, Chairman of the Hartford ConsensusTM, and professor surgery and vice-president of academic affairs at Hartford (Conn.) Hospital, also examined both groups’ beliefs’ about healthcare workers’ duty to protect patients during such events.

The standard directive to “run, hide, fight” in active shooter situations has a different connotation in hospitals because healthcare professionals are responsible for patient care. 

However, “how healthcare professionals should respond is an intensely personal decision,” the authors wrote.

Related: ED Shooting Shows Why Hospital Violence Must Be a Priority 

With hospital-based shootings on the rise, the Hartford Consensus wondered about the willingness of hospital staff to place themselves at risk to protect patients if an active shooter was on site.    

The results are published online as an “article in press” on the website of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons in advance of print.

Related: Gun Laws in Health Systems Vary by State

Key findings are as follows:

  • More healthcare professionals (33%) believe the risk of an active shooter event to be “high” or “very high” in a hospital than do members of the general public (18%).
  • More members of the public (72%) believe that hospitals are “somewhat” or “very prepared” for an active shooter event than healthcare professionals do (55%).
  • In close agreement, 61% of the public and 62% of healthcare professionals responded that professionals have a special duty to protect patients, similar to the way police and firefighters protect the general public.
  • These strong beliefs dropped, however, when it came to the issue of personal risk, with 39% of the public and 27% of professionals believing that doctors/nurses should accept a “high” or “very high” degree of personal risk to help patients in harm’s way.

“Ten years ago an active shooter event was a non-concept for hospitals, but clearly things have changed,” Jacobs wrote. “Hospitals need to build resilience against such attacks as called for by Barak Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 8, promoting a fully integrated preparedness system to strengthen the nation’s resilience to deal with natural and manmade disasters.”

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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