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[Reporter’s Notebook] Korean medical workers living in fear of violence
  • By Lee Han-soo
  • Published 2018.07.13 16:34
  • Updated 2018.07.13 16:34
  • comments 0

Violence is growing in Korean hospitals, including emergency rooms, committed by angry patients, their guardians and even visitors.

On July 1, a drunken patient wreaked havoc at an emergency room (ER) doctor in Iksan, North Jeolla Province, sending the entire medical community into shock and anger once again.

The patient assaulted a doctor with his fist and elbow, saying the doctor ridiculed him while refusing to give him painkillers. Even after the police arrested him, the attacker threatened “to kill the doctor after returning from jail.”

In a bizarre turn of events, it was the doctor who had to fear for his life even after the police took the drunkard into custody. Officers did not imprison he assailant or take other legal steps but released the patient, allowing him to repeat the threatening the doctor the very next day. The way the police handled the matter was hard to understand, forcing a victim, doctor or not, to fear falling prey to the same attacker.

Sadly, this incident was just one of the numerous cases where patients attacked their medical caregiver.

In a 2014 survey conducted by the Korean Intern Resident Association, nearly half of medical residents and interns responded that they had undergone some forms of violence from patients, with 39 percent of them stating that the assaults were life-threatening.

In response to the undiminishing assault, the National Assembly passed legislation to protect medical workers in 2016. Under the new law, those who interfere with rescue and emergency activities are subject to imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of maximum 50 million won ($44,000).

The punishment falls far short of what many countries are enforcing, however.

In various states in the U.S., such as Georgia, state legislators passed amendments that enhanced penalties for assaulting ER professionals to five to 20 years. In Queensland, Australia, attack on a medical professional can lead up to 14 years in jail.

The problem is even the comparably weak punishment is not adequately enforced here, letting violence in ERs occur frequently.

Most of those arrested in the past for assaulting a medical professional received a fine of 1 to 3 million won, while the eight months in prison was the harshest punishment so far.

It is a small surprise that the local medical community is taking issue with such slaps on the wrist.

Considering that the ER staffs are the last line of defense between a dire patient’s life and death, it is only plausible to protect them from external factors such as assault so they may treat patients without fear.

“Those who assault medical professionals have to face the full consequences so that the public consensus can change,” a doctor told Korea Biomedical Review, asking to remain anonymous. “ER is already a stressful environment for medical professionals as they have to be on hold 24/7 and be ready to receive an emergency patient who may come at any time.”

An assault on an ER staff can cause chaos, which can, in turn, jeopardize the life of a patient that may be on his/her way to receive treatment, he added.


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