Statement of purpose Our purpose is to describe how United States’ (US) trauma surgeons perceive law enforcement activities during acute trauma care and their impact on patient care.
Methods/Approach All trauma surgical care providers who are members of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, the preeminent trauma surgical professional society in the US were recruited via email for an anonymous online survey from September-October 2020. All data were analyzed descriptively.
Results Approximately 20% (231) of the society’s membership completed the survey. The majority of respondents were affiliated with Level I trauma centers in urban settings, and witness law enforcement activities during trauma care at least weekly. These activities include questioning patients as suspects or witnesses to crimes, evidence collection, and surveillance of patients under arrest. Respondents’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of law enforcement activities during emergency trauma care varied widely. On a continuum from very harmful to very helpful for patients, 36% perceived police presence during emergency trauma care as neither helpful nor harmful, 36% as helpful, and 28% as harmful. The majority (80%) felt that they had oversight over police access to patients in their care. To determine access to patients, respondents prioritized patients’ physiologic stability and the safety of clinical staff. 79% did not know of any institutional policy at their place of employment to guide law enforcement activities during acute trauma care, and 73% endorsed the need for relevant policy.
Conclusions Law enforcement activities frequently intersect with the emergency care of trauma patients, and current institutional guidance is lacking.
Significance As law enforcement officers are asked to play increased roles in emergency medical care (in response to violence, motor vehicle crashes, and opioid overdose) there is a need to evaluate current practice and address relevant policy gaps.
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