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Violence by patients against physicians in China is a reminder to pathologists and clinical laboratory professionals about the importance of gaining patient trust in local medical laboratory test providers too

Medical errors, inaccurate diagnoses, and poor clinical care by clinicians in China are believed to be the primary reasons why a growing number of Chinese patients are physically attacking their doctors. Hospitals in China are beefing up security to protect physicians from what are often violent attacks.

This trend is a reminder to pathologists and clinical laboratory professionals in the United States and other developed nations of how essential it is maintain patients’ complete confidence and trust in their caregivers. That trust is anchored in accurate medical laboratory testing, precise diagnosis, and high-quality clinical care that is appropriate to a patient’s disease or health problem.

More Chinese Patients Turn Violent on Physicians and Caregivers

What makes this trend particularly noteworthy is that Chinese people are often viewed as patient and obedient. Now, however, when it comes to their healthcare, a growing number of Chinese patients are not patently compliant or meek. Over the last decade, disgruntled patients or family members have turned the nation’s hospitals into scary places for doctors and nurses to work. That’s because violent attacks on caregivers are increasing at an alarming rate.

China’s 1,000 top hospitals have seen a rise in “disputes escalating into violence, as well as random attacks,” stated Sun Haibo, Department Chief at China’s Ministry of Public Security’s Public Security Management Bureau in Bejing, in a recent report published by Bloomberg Businessweek.

70,000 Cases of Violence Against Medical Professionals in 2013

China’s Ministry of Health, estimates that 70,000 such incidents occurred at hospitals in 2013. This is a significant increase from the 10,000 attacks on clinicians that were reported in 2005.

Moreover, some experts say violent occurrences have been underestimated because some hospitals pay off disgruntled patients, noted a report published by

Most cases of patient-doctor violence seem to be occurring in developed urban centers in eastern China, particularly in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. These are cities where the largest share of medical resources are concentrated, thereby attracting the most complex cases.

Between October 2013 and March 2014, there have been seven attacks that resulted in three deaths of medical professionals nationwide. Bloomberg Businessweek and cited some recent cases, as follows:

• In October 2013, a patient upset over a nose operation stabbed a doctor to death and injured two others in China’s eastern Zhejiang Providence.

• In February 2014, the wife of an official in the local prosecutor’s office in Nanjing, Jiangsu Providence, assaulted a nurse, who remains paralyzed. Due her husband’s job, there was concern that the law enforcement agency would not handle the case impartially or appropriately, so the perpetrator remained at large for a week following the incident.

• Also in February, a doctor was beaten to death with pipe by an enraged patient in northeastern Heilongjiang Province. Another doctor barely survived a throat slashing by an angry patient in Yixian, Hebei Province.

• In March 2014, the family of a patient who died after failing to respond to emergency treatment for alcohol poisoning, manhandled the patient’s doctor and paraded down him down the streets in Chaozhou, Guangdon Province. Also that same week, family members of another patient beat up a doctor in Guangzhou, capital of South China’s Guangdong province.

Chief Reasons Chinese Patients Attack Their Doctors

Dissatisfaction with treatment outcomes, a breakdown in communications, and soaring medical costs are the major causes of patient violence, noted the report. For various reasons, many Chinese patients tend to expect too much from modern medicine, which may be experimental or explorative, and always presents some level of inherent risk beyond human comprehension. When things don’t turn out well, patients and their families tend to blame the clinicians or other caregivers.

Part of the problem is the general public’s low opinion of doctors. In November 2013, a survey was conducted by the China Daily polling service. It included 252,283 participants nationwide. The survey report revealed that that two-thirds of Chinese people distrust doctors’ diagnoses and treatments.

Some respondents blamed the loss of confidence in doctors to the uneven distribution of medical resources, doctors’ heavy workloads, and the knowledge gap between doctors and patients. Additionally, 30.4% of survey participants attributed current medical disputes to lack of charity care at public hospitals, and 27.4% believe media reports have contributed to rising attacks on doctors.

The report also noted that while the government has weaned hospitals off financial subsidies, it continues to dictate prices for medical services at ridiculously low rates. This causes hospitals to beef up revenue by prescribing expensive medications, tests, procedures, and treatments that often are unnecessary.

Policy Change Steps Up Security at Hospitals Nationwide

In March 2014, 90 of the nation’s health ministers submitted an emergency bill to the National People’s Congress to step up security at hospitals. This law declared medical institutions to be a “public space” similar to banks. As a result, two to three security officers are now stationed at each hospital throughout the nation.

Hospitals are also upgrading video surveillance systems and establishing security checkpoints with X-ray machines at all main entrances, observed Wei Zeng, a Senior Police Officer attached to the Ministry of Public Security, in a China Daily news report.”Any prohibited items, such as knives, will be confiscated,” he warned.

In March 2014, Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China Congress, urged security officials attending a provincial conference to deal with violence against medical professionals to the fullest extent of the law.

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (pictured) is urging security officials to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law violent offenders who attack medical professionals. (Photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (pictured) is urging security officials to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law violent offenders who attack medical professionals. (Photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)

Patients’ concerns about the quality of healthcare they receive in China are not an isolated phenomenon. In many other nations across the globe, patients are speaking out about the poor quality of care they receive. This is particularly true of medical laboratory testing that patients perceived to be of poor quality.

In such countries as India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and other African nations, the news media regularly publishes reports on failures by medical laboratories to perform accurate tests. In these countries, pathologists and clinical laboratory professionals often speak out about the lack of national or provincial standards for licensing medical laboratories and laboratory staff.

Reminder of the Importance of Accurate Medical Lab Test Results

Certainly pathologists and clinical laboratory professionals here in the United States have pride in the quality, accuracy, and reproducibility of the medical laboratory testing they provide every day to millions of patients. At the same time, the trend of patients in China attacking their physicians when they believe that their medical care was substandard is more than an interesting news story. It is a reminder that the trust of the public in the quality of their clinical laboratory testing is a precious thing and can be lost in a flash, following one serious lab error episode.

—by Patricia Kirk

Related Information:

Two-Thirds of Chinese Don’t Trust Doctors, Amid Rising Hospital Violence

A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care

Hospitals aim to prescribe more security

Irate Patients Attack China’s Doctors and Nurses in Hospital Violence

The Doctor Death Wish: Why are so many health workers victims of violent attacks?

Heartless attacks

Chinese Doctors Violently Attacked Over Medical Costs

In Some Chinese Hospitals, Violence Is Out of Control and It’s Doctors Who Are at Risk

Tell Us Your Story about Medical Error

Future doctors turned off by hospital attacks

Public Outcry Over Inaccurate Medical Laboratory Test Results and Misdiagnoses Spurs Government Action in Developing Countries

Inaccurate Medical Laboratory Test Results and Misdiagnoses in Nigeria Widely Reported by Media