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Safety In Care Settings—What Physicians Can Do

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December Messenger 2020, Professionalism & Standards | Posted December 14, 2020

After the tragic death of a colleague this past summer, safety in their workplace is, understandably, on the minds of many physicians.

Practising medicine is not easy. In addition to maintaining a vast and ever-changing repertoire of clinical knowledge, physicians are also tasked with handling situations which can be emotional and, at times, volatile. Caring for patients with complex needs during their most trying times and providing difficult, sensitive news adds to the challenges of clinical practice. While situations like the tragedy that occurred in Red Deer are extremely uncommon, many physicians have spoken out about their experiences with providing care in unsafe situations.

Physicians, healthcare workers and support staff have the right to feel safe in care spaces, just like workers in any other industry have a right to feel safe in the workplace. CPSA would never expect a physician to put their physical or psychological health at risk by practising in unsafe conditions.

What can be done if a physician feels unsafe?

  • If you feel your safety is at immediate risk, don’t hesitate to contact your local law enforcement. You may also want to contact them if a patient threatens you.
  • We are here to offer advice: the Terminating the Physician-Patient Relationship In Office-Based Settings recognizes the importance of physician safety and outlines when and how a physician can end their relationship with a patient.
  • In October’s issue of The Messenger, we talked about surveillance cameras in clinics and whether their use is appropriate (they are allowed in public waiting rooms only and without sound—cameras in exam rooms are strictly prohibited).
  • The Violence Prevention Guide for Community Clinics by the Doctors of BC might be a helpful resource.
  • If you are struggling and need support, reach out to the Alberta Medical Association’s Physician and Family Support Program, at 1.877.SOS.4MDS.
  • CMPA is also available for medico-legal advice.

What can a physician do to protect colleagues while respecting patient privacy?

When a threatening patient is discharged, your first instinct may be to warn your colleagues. This is understandable; however, care must be taken not to breach a patient’s privacy.

Be sure to document the circumstances of your concerns directly in the patient’s record. This will inform the physician who sees the patient next (and presumably requests a transfer of records to allow for ongoing care) what led to the patient’s discharge.

Physicians are not alone

CPSA understands the anxiety physicians may feel while still wanting to provide patients with the best care possible. We encourage physicians to prioritize their safety and seek support if needed.

Questions or concerns? Please contact CPSA’s standards of practice advisor using the contact form below:

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