Going to work with a lump in your throat, practice employee Melanie Seibold can tell you a thing or two. “Verbal gaffes on the part of patients occur almost every day,” says the 46-year-old, who works in a doctor’s office near Stuttgart. In the past, the dear, good, nice patients were in the majority. “It hasn’t completely turned around, but it comes close.” The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians knows the problem – and the reasons.
“Verbal attacks and assaults are increasing in all practices,” says Günther Fuhrer. He is a surgeon in Reutlingen and one of the initiators of the campaign “Respect for each other”, with which doctors in Baden-Württemberg want to create more awareness of the problem in the population. Stickers, buttons and posters are now attached to Fuhrer’s practice.
Hostilities in medical practices: “The tone is getting rougher”
What practice employees have to listen to? From sentences like “You’re crazy”, “You’ve got a bang”, “You’re probably not quite close” to wild, sometimes vulgar swear words and threats, everything is there, says Seibold. “This development can be observed not only in Reutlingen, but in all parts of the state,” says Nicola Buhlinger-Göpfarth, Chairwoman of the General Practitioners’ Association of Baden-Württemberg. “The sound gets rougher.”
The backgrounds are diverse. In times of a shortage of family doctors, resources would become scarcer and waiting times for appointments longer. “However, there seems to be a general trend that people take their frustration out on helpers,” says Buhlinger-Göpfarth, also referring to the attacks on the police, rescue services and fire brigades, which have been making headlines for a long time.
“Even then there were patients who raged in the waiting room”
The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians speaks of a “perceived” increase in aggression. “Scarce resources such as vaccines during the first phase of the corona pandemic, for example, led to a real rush to the practices,” says spokesman Roland Stahl. Many a patient did not take into account that older people or those with previous illnesses had been prioritized for vaccination. “The practice teams in particular got the anger.”
Open ruthlessness and a rough tone were already noticed in 2019, says the President of the Association of Medical Professions (vmf), Hannelore König. “Even then there were patients who lost all inhibitions and raged in the waiting room or at the registration desk.” In 2021, the Doctors’ Day also dealt with the topic and emphatically called for violence against medical staff to be outlawed. In the meantime, medical specialists from all parts of Germany have reported increased aggressiveness. “It runs through all strata and regions.”
According to vmf President König and other experts, there are no numbers or valid statistics on the incidents. “Experience has shown that far too few such acts are reported.” At the suggestion of the association, a research team led by Professor Adrian Loerbroks from the University of Düsseldorf is now working on this topic. There are no results yet.
A fine of 1,000 euros is threatened for “you wanker”.
Attacks rarely make national headlines. Shortly before Christmas last year, according to the police, a 22-year-old hit an emergency doctor in Wernigerode am Harz in the face. He should have displeased the duration of his mother’s medical care.
The suicide of an Austrian doctor who had publicly engaged in the corona debate after threats from vaccination opponents last summer caused great dismay. As a consequence, the German Medical Association had called for educational campaigns. The legislature in Germany has now reacted and tightened criminal law, said German Medical Association President Klaus Reinhardt at the time. According to the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, there are now further training courses for self-defence.
Ariane Hanfstein, who as a coach has trained around 14,000 medical assistants and doctors in dealing with difficult patients and conflict situations, encourages her clients to report insults and abuse. Sometimes she advises practices that are particularly affected to post a catalog of fines in the waiting room. It lists fines that have been imposed for certain swear words in various judgments. For example, 1000 euros would have been due for “You wanker”.