Here’s a stunner for many of us in a profession based on the tenet “first do no harm.” It seems some hospital security personnel are now using stun guns to subdue unruly patients. According to a report in the Washington Post, it’s not just police using Tasers and similar “non-lethal” weapons.
My reaction is strong and mixed. Under my department at Penn State, I’m responsible for the medical care of 74 in-patients. We also have four out-patient clinics. The threat of violence from psychiatric patients is always on our minds, as it is everywhere.
This technology is relatively new, but the dilemma isn’t. We want to keep patients—and staff—safe. If a patient becomes excited, agitated, angry, and potentially assaultive, we try verbal and behavioral interventions to de-escalate the situation. When needed, we administer medications and, as infrequently as possible, resort to seclusion and/or physical restraint.
Is there a role for stun guns? Honestly, I’m unsure. It will require thoughtful investigation and discussion of the pros and cons, risks and potential benefits, and an ultimate local decision of where—if at all—these devices fit into an algorithm for patient and staff safety.