Care suffers when patients berate docs, other medical professionals

Team of doctors talking
Be civil to doctors and other medical professionals or risk poor care, a new study finds.

Warning to patients, parents and caregivers: Mind your manners.

While much has been written about the need to put an end to some doctors’ rude and bullying behavior, a new study shows the need for patients and families to also control their behavior.

Parents and caregivers who are rude to medical professionals may find it backfires. Indeed, doctors who are subjected to rude behavior may actually provide worse care to their patients even if they don't intend to, according to a study by University of Florida researchers.

Emotions can run high in hospitals, so it's not uncommon for patients or their loved ones to be rude to medical professionals if they think care is inadequate. But that type of bad behavior can lead to worse care for a child, the researchers warn.

Berating a child’s doctors or other medical professionals who provide care has “devastating effects on medical performance,” according to the findings of the study, published in Pediatrics.

A Johns Hopkins study estimated that more than 250,000 deaths are attributed to medical errors in the U.S. each year. The effects of rudeness account for more than 40% of the variance in practitioner performance that can lead to medical errors, according to management professor Amir Erez, Ph.D., one of the study authors.

“People may think that doctors should just 'get over' the insult and continue doing their job. However, the study shows that even if doctors have the best intentions in mind, as they usually do, they cannot get over rudeness because it interferes with their cognitive functioning without an ability to control it," Erez said in an announcement about the study.

In the study, researchers compared teams made up of two doctors and two nurses in 39 neonatal intensive care units in Israel. They simulated five scenarios in which the teams treated infant medical mannequins in emergency situations. An actress playing the baby’s mother scolded some of the teams, while the others were not subjected to rude behavior.

Teams who experienced rudeness performed poorly and were deficient in all of the study’s 11 measures, which included diagnostic accuracy, information sharing, therapy plan and communication. The behavior continued to affect the team members the entire day.

However, teams that participated in a pretest intervention—a computer game intended to raise the threshold of sensitivity to anger and aggression—recognized the mother’s rudeness and were not affected by it. In addition to training healthcare professionals on how to improve their interpersonal skills, the study suggests that hospital administrators should also make it a priority to teach medical professionals how to handle rudeness more effectively.