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A female chiropractor using a keypad system to lock her doors.

Safety Tips for Health Care Workers

Being a doctor can mean that you're in intimate situations with your patients during treatment. While the majority of your patients will be respectful, here are some tips to consider to help improve safety around the office.

As a doctor, your mission is to help your patients. It may be hard to believe that while doing that, you could encounter potentially dangerous situations. Something could happen in the parking lot, a treatment room with a patient or the reception area full of staff, patients and family members.

It’s good to be prepared for any situation, especially since you may be in a small practice setting with few people around to help. The following tips are good for all doctors to keep in mind.

Before or Outside of Treatment

  • Good lighting. Make sure all areas of your practice and parking lot have good lighting. Avoid landscaping that can obstruct your view.
  • Install cameras. Consider installing cameras in and outside of your practice in all spaces except patient treatment areas. This includes the parking lot, entrance, reception and waiting area. Place a note on the front door stating cameras are in place.
  • Get to know your local police department. They can help you develop a plan for many emergency situations such as domestic incidents, people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and much more.
  • Avoid being alone. When you determine your practice hours, make sure at least one staff member is there with you at all times. Do not see patients after hours when you are alone. Schedule deliveries and repair work when another staff member will be present.
  • Keep it professional. Do not date your patients or staff. It can only lead to problems.
  • Use your locks. Lock the doors after hours, whether you are alone or with staff.
  • Post signs.  Use your reception area to explain that rude and aggressive behavior to staff and other patients will not be tolerated.
  • Update your processes. Make sure your patient dismissal process is up to date in case you have to use it.
  • Be picky. Remember that you don’t have to accept everyone as a patient. If you feel uneasy about someone, you can’t provide the best care.
  • Don't "friend" patients. Adhere to your practice’s social media policies. It’s not a good idea to be friends with patients – or even staff – on social media. Keep your boundaries between work and personal life clear.
  • Don't consult via text. Texting may be okay for appointment reminders, but don’t consult patients via text messaging. It can be too easy for professional boundaries to be crossed.
  • Listen to your staff. They see what is happening in the waiting room. They talk to the patients on the phone. If they have concerns about a particular patient or situation, don’t ignore them. Additionally, make sure they know the names and appearance of anyone you’ve had problems with in the past.
  • Follow your gut instincts. Have a plan for circumstances when a particular patient or situation makes you feel uneasy.
  • Pre-plan your responses. Think about your planned responses in uncomfortable situations. For example, if someone in the waiting area is yelling, being disrespectful to others, or appears to be under the influence. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive when possible.
  • Don't fire staff alone. Problems with staff can happen. If you need to fire an employee or take disciplinary action, make sure other employees are in the practice when you have to deliver this news. You may feel more comfortable having another staff member in the room with you for your safety.
  • Take a self-defense class. Invite your staff to join you.

During Treatment

  • Don't treat patients under the influence. If someone is obviously under the influence, explain that you are unable to treat them at that time and they’ll need to reschedule. 
  • Don’t hug your patients. It can easily be misconstrued.
  • Don't use your first name. Don’t allow your patients to call you by your first name. This will diminish the Doctor/Patient relationship. It’s best to keep things on a professional level.
  • Don't do mobile treatments alone. If you have a mobile practice, take a staff member with you if possible. Do not treat patients at their homes.
  • Leave the room if necessary. If a patient touches you inappropriately or makes a comment or gesture that makes you uncomfortable, leave the room immediately. Come back with a staff member and explain to the patient that they need to leave. Should you need to dismiss the patient, follow your state rules and regulations.
  • Get a thorough medical history. This should include medication use and family history of mental illness. This information could help explain certain behavior.

After Treatment

  • Take complaints seriously. If a patient complains about treatment, billing or another issue, take it seriously. The earlier you handle the compliant, the less likely it will turn into something serious.
  • Stick together. Try and walk out with other staff at the end of the day. Park as close to the building as possible.
  • Take any threats seriously. Always notify the authorities.

Should you need to dismiss your patient due to safety reasons, make sure you follow  procedures learned in school – follow your state rules and regulations on the proper patient dismissal process.

As a doctor, you try and see the good in people. It’s difficult to imagine that you could ever be in an unsafe situation. Don’t dwell on the possibility. Simply be prepared just in case and continue to help your patients get and stay healthy.

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