Doctor asks: What’s the cure for a hateful patient?

Some doctors of color are seeing an increase in hateful behavior from patients.

Unfortunately, a doctor can’t just prescribe a pill to cure a hateful patient.

That’s too bad since some doctors of color are seeing an increase in hateful behavior from patients, writes Pranay Sinha, M.D., a third year resident in internal medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in the Hartford Courant.

“In recent weeks, my colleagues and I have noticed an uptick in hate speech. Some patients have refused to let doctors and other healthcare workers of color touch them, commanded us to leave the country and accused us of terrorism,” writes Sinha, who is from India and is working in the U.S. on a work visa, with hopes of getting a green card.

Sinha says he has been disturbed by the recent swastikas, homophobic behavior and lynching references occurring across the country, but it hit home for him in a recent encounter with a patient. The doctor went out of his way, pleading with MRI techs to fit in the patient before they went home for the weekend to try and find out why the man’s kidneys were failing. Yet the patient exploded at the news of the upcoming scan, lashing out at Sinha as “your kind” and threatening to get him fired. 

While healthcare workers cannot walk away from sick patients even if they react with hateful words, they must be prepared to react to such behavior.  The problem of discrimination because of race and gender struck a nerve earlier this year with the story of a flight attendant who turned down the help of a young black female doctor when she assumed she couldn’t be a real physician.

And J. Nwando Olayiwola, M.D., a physician faculty member at the University of California, San Francisco, who practices at San Francisco General Hospital, earlier this year described her encounter with a patient with some mental health issues who did not want to be treated by a black woman doctor, going so far as to use the "N" word. Olayiwola wrote about the experience in the Annals of Family Medicine in the hope it will strengthen other family physicians and professional minorities that are victims of racism, discrimination, and prejudice for their race, sex, ability, sexual orientation, religion and other means of discrimination.