research finds that physician demeanor can affect quality of care

Can a doctor’s bad bedside manner and rude behavior lead to bad outcomes for patients? According to recent research, the answer is yes.

A pair of researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Cedars Sinai Hospital collected and analyzed data from past studies that monitored a surgeon’s behavior in the operating room. They then looked at the information on patient outcomes for those doctors. They found that patients were more likely to survive their operations if their surgeons were polite and civil to operating room staff than they were if their surgeons were rude or abusive.

Additionally, the researchers found that a doctor’s rudeness could lead to other negative medical events, including prescription drug errors. Often, pharmacists and nurses serve a vital role by catching and preventing drug errors before a patient is harmed. However, the researchers found that 75 percent of pharmacists and nurses preferred to avoid confrontation with a rude physician when questions arose about prescriptions, including drug interactions and errors on prescriptions.

If a doctor’s prescription drug error goes unchallenged, a patient is far more likely to be hurt as a result.

The researchers believe that problems with civility and bedside manner are not due to just a few rude doctors. In fact, the culture of medicine recognizes surgeons as being in command of the operating room. Surgeons are exposed to this culture from the first day they begin training and many surgeons learned to behave rudely from watching the surgeons who trained them.

A recent survey of medical students supports this conclusion. In that survey, 42 percent of students reported that they had been harassed by their superiors and 84 percent reported being belittled.

Although many patients are tempted to ignore problems with their physicians’ bedside manner as long as their physicians get the job done, this research indicates that physicians who treat others with courtesy and respect often obtain better outcomes for patients. Irrespective of whether a physician is rude or not, if a physician makes a surgical error or a prescription drug mistake, injured patients have the right to seek compensation for their injuries.

Source: Time, “Your Doctor’s Bedside Manner Could Affect Your Health,” Alice Park, July 19, 2011

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