Medical groups want lawmakers to improve the safety of the health care workforce

Doctors, nurses and other staff face a growing number of threats.

Federal action would improve the safety of doctors and other healthcare workers who face a growing number of threats online and in the workplace.

A number of physician groups have noted the growing trend of social media harassment and physical violence in hospitals and medical offices. They called for new legal protections and tougher penalties for those who threaten or harm health workers.

“When patients and families have health problems, they turn to health care professionals for care, guidance and hope. These professionals are a critical part of our health care system and society, serving as the front line of defense to keep our communities healthy and safe,” said a joint statement from Dr. Victor J. Zou, president of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). and David J. Skorton, MD, President and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

“Yet violence against health workers is on the rise and inflammatory rhetoric has become commonplace and intense,” they said. “Such words and actions are irresponsible and dangerous, and compromise the ability of healthcare professionals to provide much-needed care to patients and communities.”

NAM and AAMC called for passage of the federal Safety Against Violence for Healthcare Workers (SAVE) Act, introduced in June by Congresswoman Madeline Dean, D-Pennsylvania, and Congressman Larry Buckshon, MD, R-Indiana. The bill is modeled after current protections for aircraft and airport workers, such as flight crews and attendants, and would provide legal penalties for individuals who knowingly and intentionally assault or intimidate hospital staff.

The NAM and AAMC cite studies that show 44 percent of nurses report being physically abused and 68 percent report verbal abuse, and 23 percent of physicians report being personally attacked on social media. In June, a gunman targeted his surgeon, whom he blamed for ongoing pain, and the gunman killed another doctor, a receptionist and a visitor before turning the gun on himself in a Tulsa medical office.

Children’s hospitals that provide evidence-based, gender-affirming care have become targets of inflammatory rhetoric and threats, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Children’s Hospital Association. The groups sent a joint letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Justice Department to investigate threats against doctors, hospitals and children’s families.

“People in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment that is safe and free from intimidation or retaliation,” AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD, said in a joint statement with the other organizations. “As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to serious real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patient health outcomes.”

The AMA and its members will work with federal, state and local law enforcement officials to develop and implement strategies that protect physicians and other health care workers from senseless acts of violence, abuse and intimidation, Resneck said.

This summer, Boston Children’s Hospital made national news for exposing threats and harassment due to online misinformation that the hospital performed sex-confirmation surgeries on young children. Those threats prompted comments from the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and the creation of a threat hotline.

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