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"You Have to Be a Doctor First": Trauma Surgeons' Perspectives on Police Interactions in the Hospital.

American Surgeon 2024 May 5
BACKGROUND: Police activity in emergency medical settings has been shown to complicate the care of patients and impact patient-provider relationships. Recent scholarship has called for clear hospital policy outlining the terms of police access to patients and the role of clinicians. Despite regular contact between trauma surgeons and police, research on the impact of police activity on trauma care has been limited.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with attending trauma surgeons and general surgery residents (N = 13) at 3 urban hospitals about their interactions with police in clinical settings. Participants were recruited using snowball sampling. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for recurrent themes using an iterative grounded theory process.

RESULTS: Participants reported routine contact with police that required active negotiation of the scope of clinical and police authority in the hospital. These negotiations were shaped by prior experiences, perceptions of police, officer behavior, and institutional culture. Surgeons felt compelled to advocate for patients, but reported intimidation in moments of conflict. Participants noted uncertainty around the legal dimensions of their relationship to police and a lack of universal guidance on appropriate responses.

DISCUSSION: This data points to the need for improvements in both policy and workflow to regulate and reduce the burden of these interactions and protect clinicians' priorities from being subordinated to those of police. Further research is needed to understand how police presence impacts patient outcomes, and to guide best practices for regulating and mitigating potential negative impact.

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