Doctor-Patient Homicide in China and the US


Came across a super interesting article in The New Yorker last week, titled “Under the Knife – why Chinese patients are turning against their doctors.”  It’s a long read but worth your time, I promise! It is a fascinating account of the evolution of the healthcare system in China, highlighting the major changes that have led to increased patient-doctor homicides.

In a nutshell, in ancient China, traditional medicine reigned king, and people scoffed at the idea of Westernized medicine. This started changing in 1949 with the Communist takeover, when the government began organizing basic vaccination drives and efforts to improve public sanitation. Then in 1965, the Party announced the job of “barefoot doctors,” basically anyone in the villages with a high school education who became the official “doctor.” These “doctors” had no medical training whatsoever, and learned on the go. No wonder these doctors were not well respected at the time! Fast forward to the 2000’s, when China announced that it would provide healthcare insurance for all by 2020, including poor villagers in rural towns. This push led to a huge surge in patients in hospitals located in big cities, increasing already enormous pressure on doctors to see more patients in the same amount of time. The article says,

A leading radiologist in Shanghai told me he’d heard that the record number of patients seen in a day is three hundred and fourteen. “That was at the Shanghai Children’s Hospital,” he said. “One doctor, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M., ten hours, two minutes per patient.” According to a study conducted in Shaanxi province, the average visit to a doctor’s office lasts seven minutes, and physicians spend only one and a half minutes of that time talking to the patient.

Because of the strained patient-doctor relationship and the increasing burden of healthcare costs, patients are readily resorting to violence to take out their frustration on medical personnel. The article cites a statistic that in 2012, Chinese hospitals reported an average of twenty-seven attacks a year, per hospital. Nurses, doctors, trainees alike were targeted, by patients with and without mental illnesses.

This article shocked me. In America we recognize the problem of increasing demand on primary care physicians, leading to more physician errors, greater dissatisfaction for physicians and patients alike, greater physician burnout, etc, but the thought of constant danger from my profession never crossed my mind. What are the stats in the US?

An article in Slate cited a stat that “According to 2005 data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care workers are twice as likely as those in other fields to experience an injury from a violent act at work, with nurses being the most common victims.” The same article said, “In a 2005 survey of ER doctors, 75 percent reported at least one verbal threat in the previous 12 months; 30 percent indicated that they had been the victims of a physical assault; 12 percent had been confronted outside of the ER.”

Now that I’ve done a rotation in the ER at my county hospital, I can completely believe it. Patients are often so angry, so frustrated, especially if they are intoxicated on drugs or alcohol or if they are off their psychiatric medications, that we often have to resort to physical restraints and pharmacologic interventions against their will. In areas with high crime rates, I think it makes sense for ER’s to have metal detectors at the front door, and for numerous armed security guards to be present. Reading the New Yorker article and learning the statistics for patient-doctor violence in the US makes me realize that a). I am glad I’m not a doctor in China in the current system they have and b) I should have heightened awareness going into a patient’s room even in America, to call for help from security if anything seems off, and to always keep myself between the patient and the door. Attacks can happen at any time, and after so many years of training to help others, it’s best not to take any risks.

4 Comments on Doctor-Patient Homicide in China and the US

  1. Petiteish
    October 13, 2014 at 10:21 am (3 years ago)

    Such a fascinating read! Thanks for sharing.

    • Joyce
      October 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm (3 years ago)

      You’re welcome! It was a long one but I thought so interesting in how it detailed the history of medicine in China. Lays the backdrop well for how things are the way they are now.

      • Petiteish
        January 21, 2015 at 9:47 am (3 years ago)

        I immediately thought of this when I heard about what happened at Brigham yesterday. It was so tragic and scary. Your article was prescient and makes me wander if there isn’t something we could be teaching/learning better during our med education in terms of physician safety

        • Joyce
          January 21, 2015 at 9:26 pm (3 years ago)

          This is such a terrible tragedy. I know in some rougher neighborhoods the county hospitals have metal detectors. I wonder if that will become a more common sight?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *

%d bloggers like this: