study negative workplace behavior can affect patient safety

There is no question that working in any sort of health care facility — hospital, clinic, pharmacy, etc. — can prove to be incredibly stressful. This is largely because medical professionals must deal with everything from sizeable patient loads and nerve-wracking scenarios to severe time constraints and seemingly endless paperwork. Unfortunately, these tense atmospheres often cause these medical professionals to become curt, rude or even abusive toward their colleagues.

In fact, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit, recently released the results of a survey of 4,884 medical professionals — nurses, pharmacists, physicians and quality/risk management consultants — to gauge the extent to which bullying, intimidation and other types of disrespectful behavior were present in the health care workforce.

What did they discover?

Somewhat surprisingly, the ISMP survey revealed that there is a shocking amount of disrespectful behavior taking place between medical professionals:

  • 73 percent reported hearing negative comments about colleagues at least once, while 20 percent reported hearing negative comments more than once.
  • 68 percent reported condescending language/demeaning comments at least once, while 15 percent reported hearing either of these more than once.
  • 69 percent reported experiencing impatience with questions or hanging up of the telephone at least once, while 10 percent reported experiencing either of these more than once.

Interestingly, the survey also determined that this negative behavior wasn’t just confined to physicians, but rather was practiced by all types of medical professionals. Furthermore, it also determined that this disrespectful behavior wasn’t confined to just a few people in workplaces, but rather was systemic in many health care facilities.

What does all this mean for you, the potential patient?

Unfortunately, the presence of negative behavior can seriously compromise your health and safety as a patient. If you don’t believe it, consider the ISMP survey’s findings on the impact of this negative behavior on patient safety:

  • Nearly 50 percent of medical professionals indicated that their experiences with negative behavior changed the way they handled medication inquiries. 
  • 33 percent of medical professionals indicated that they simply assumed that an order was correct at least once during the year rather than discuss it with an ill-mannered/intimidating prescriber.
  • Over 33 percent of medical professionals indicated that they asked another medical professional to speak with an ill-mannered/intimidating prescriber about a medication order.
  • 11 percent of medical professionals indicated that they knew of a prescription error that could likely be traced to negative behavior.

It’s truly astonishing to think that this level of dysfunction can exist in so many health care facilities. These are not just traditional office settings, but places where lives are on the line. Here’s hoping that more facilities view this report as a call to action and take the necessary steps to stop negative behavior once and for all.

Source: The Institute for Safe Medication Practices, “Intimidation still a problem in hospital workplace, ISMP survey shows,” Oct. 3, 2013

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