Patient abuse can consist of neglect, physical, sexual, financial, and verbal abuse and can take place in any institutional or community setting among any vulnerable group. While patient abuse refers to the intentional harm of a patient, neglect is when a patient’s necessary needs are not being met by a staff member or caregiver. Research, policies and laws on patient abuse and neglect should aim to highlight that abuse takes place in all patient groups and should expand their resources to address all types of abuse in children, the elderly, those with learning disabilities, adults under 60, and other vulnerable groups.

To combat patient abuse by staff and prevent future abuse, institutions are responsible for establishing a patient-centered environment. This involves not only developing policies and procedures to address abuse accusations and create an environment where abuse of any form will not be tolerated, but also training staff to properly care for patients and providing support for staff members and caregivers who feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of their role. While there is no excuse for patient abuse of any kind, understaffed institutions, faulty systems, undertrained staff, and a lack of management oversight are all institutional factors that place a patient at risk of abuse. Institutions that lack policies on patient abuse are inappropriately placing complete trust in their staff, even though patient abuse can be an issue among some of the most professional staff members (Nations, 1973). Additionally, patient behavior must also be addressed. While staff members and caregivers committing patient abuse because they were provoked by the patient is inexcusable, documenting patient behavior may help staff be more aware of the kind of patient they are dealing with.

The main goals of future research on patient abuse by staff should be to (i) conduct more prevalence studies on patient abuse by staff, (ii) further study patient abuse by staff in other vulnerable populations to include pediatrics, patients with learning disabilities, and adults under the age of 60 who have suffered from abuse in institutional or community settings, (iii) continue to study elder abuse as it is a public health concern, and (iv) conduct more interventions on eliminating patient abuse so that they may be studied and applied in other settings. Conducting more research on patient maltreatment across all patient groups in institutional and community settings will aid in the development of more inclusive policies addressing different types of abuse and settings where abuse can occur. Apart from researchers, patients and their families must be sure to accurately report patient maltreatment events. Ultimately, management and healthcare professionals in community and institutional settings must work together to keep patients safe.


Octavia Goodman graduated with a Master of Public Health degree in 2019 from the Eastern Virginia Medical School & Old Dominion University joint-degree program. She is currently a graduate student at Old Dominion University pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Services Research. Her research interests include sleep health disparities and sleep and health behaviors.


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