Quality & Patient Safety

Update: Identifying human trafficking patients alert

Patient Safety Monitor, September 1, 2018

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 If staff at your healthcare organization have not yet encountered a human trafficking victim, it is “very likely they will,” says Elizabeth Even, MSN, RN, CEN, associate director of Clinical Standards Interpretation in the Division of Healthcare Improvement at The Joint Commission. 


Trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, and America is one of the largest markets for victims. The Health and Human Services Department estimates that 88% of trafficking victims visit a healthcare provider at least once during their captivity and aren’t recognized as victims. 

In June, The Joint Commission released Quick Safety Issue 42 on identifying human trafficking victims. Its intent is eliminating the misconceptions that have caused many providers to inadvertently send victims back to their captors.  

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and a public health issue that impacts individuals, families, and communities,” The Joint Commission wrote in a news release. “The alert provides health care professionals with tips to recognize the signs of human trafficking, including a patient’s poor mental and physical health, abnormal behavior, and inability to speak for himself/herself due to a third party insisting on being present and/or interpreting.”  

Even went on to say that many fail to realize that human trafficking exists in every corner of the United States and that victims are hiding in plain sight. Healthcare leaders must ensure that their staff are educated on what human trafficking is and how to recognize it. If they don’t, it’ll most likely be overlooked and the opportunity to help a victim will be lost.

The human trafficking industry in America is worth $32 billion a year (for comparison, Starbucks’ 2017 revenue is $22.4 billion). It’s difficult to gauge how many victims there are in the U.S. However, in the past 10 years there’s been over 40,000 human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Patient Safety Monitor.

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