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Study: Rudeness in Medical Settings Increases Mortality Risk

Consider the following scenario — a harried phlebotomist is struggling to find a usable vein to draw a blood sample on an overdose patient who is actively seizing. The emergency room physician, who needs to know which drug the patient OD’d on, has run out of patience with the phlebotomist’s numerous attempts. He barks out a command for her to get out of the way and go find someone who is more capable.

While that may be all in a day’s work in a frantic New York City ER, uncivil comments could actually contribute to fatal outcomes for patients.

The results of a research study were published in the September 2015 issue of Pediatrics, entitled, “The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance: A Randomized Trial.” Findings indicated that rude remarks from third-party physicians decreased performance levels by over half for the nurses and doctors participating in hypothetical life-or-death situations.

One of the study’s authors, a University of Florida Huber Hurst professor of management, said, “We found that rudeness damages your ability to think, manage information, and make decisions.”

When medical professionals are in crisis mode and rudeness negatively affects their cognitive abilities, patients are adversely affected, sometimes fatally.

In the experiment, the participants were faced with a simulated emergency in a neonatal ICU where rapid diagnosis and treatment was required to save a newborn’s life.

One team was exposed to derogatory remarks they believed were from an observing colleague. The control group heard only neutral remarks.

Medical professionals exposed to rudeness struggled to cooperate and communicate effectively with one another. Their abilities to perform declined. Misdiagnoses were common. Some appeared to forget instructions, while others had trouble resuscitating and ventilating the patient.

The rude comments made the medical professionals less willing to request needed assistance. Physicians ordered the wrong medicines and nurses mixed medicines wrong.

Judges in the blind study determined that the teams had a 52 percent disparity in their abilities to diagnose the condition. Additionally, the difference in the efficacy of the treatment of the two teams was 43 percent. As one can imagine, that leaves a great deal of latitude in whether a patient lives or dies.

The study hypothesizes that rudeness of medical staff could be a contributing factor in preventable deaths from medical errors in hospitals.

Source: New York Magazine, “Rudeness in Medical Settings Could Kill Patients,” Travis McKnight, accessed Jan. 06, 2017