Emergency Medicine Physician Observations and Attitudes on Law Enforcement Activities in the Emergency Department
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Emergency Medicine Physician Observations and Attitudes on Law Enforcement Activities in the Emergency Department



Law enforcement officers (LEOs) interact with patients and clinicians in the emergency department (ED) for many reasons. There is no current consensus on what should comprise, or how to best enact, guidelines that ideally balance LEO activities in the service of public safety with patient health, autonomy and privacy. The purpose of this study was to explore how a national sample of emergency physicians (EPs) perceives activities of LEOs during the delivery of emergency medical care.



Members of the Emergency Medicine Practice Research Network (EMPRN) were recruited via an email-delivered, anonymous survey that elicited experiences, perceptions, and knowledge of policies that guide interactions with LEOs in the ED. The survey included multiple-choice items, which were analyzed descriptively, and open-ended questions, which were analyzed using qualitative content analysis.



141 of 765 EPs (18.4%) in the EMPRN completed the survey. Respondents represented diverse locations and years in practice. 82% (113) of respondents were White and 81% (114) were male. Over a third reported that LEO was present in the ED on a daily basis. A majority (62%) perceived LEO presence as helpful for clinicians and clinical practice. When asked about the factors deemed highly important in allowing LEOs to access patients during care, 75% reported patients’ potential as a threat to public safety and only 12% considered the patients’ consent or preference to interact with LEOs. 86% of EPs felt that information gathering by LEO was appropriate in the ED setting but only 13% were aware of policy to guide these decisions. Perceived barriers to implementation of an institutional policy in this area included: issues of enforcement, leadership, education, operational challenges, and potential negative consequences.



Future studies are warranted to explore the impact of intersections between emergency medical care and law enforcement on patients, clinicians, and the surrounding community.

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