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Abstract

“I'm not afraid of dying,” he says, despite his plea on arrival. “Listen up, douchebag. Are you calling my cousin or what?”

The emergency department might be the only sphere of human exchange where one party—patients (and sometimes family)—are permitted to insult, threaten, and even spit at the very people on whom they depend for help, while the offended parties—physicians, nurses, and other health care providers—must not only tolerate the abuse, but treat their tormentors.

Does the ED's collective duty to greater numbers of patients demand a revised ethos of tough love for extreme cases of misbehavior? Can we ask these patients to leave without legal recourse after extending genuine, compassionate efforts to participate in their care—barring evidence of a medical explanation for their toxic comportment or a mental illness that puts them at risk of harming themselves or others?