Unofficial Prognosis

Unofficial Prognosis

Perceptions and prescriptions of a medical student

Disrespect in hospitals isn’t just unpleasant. It’s unsafe.


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Hospital bullies: they're a minority, but they're sizable enough that they can unfortunately set the tone for everyone else. Most health care providers have in their arsenal some juicy tales of mistreatment to tell, but most is far less glamorous. It’s micro-aggressions; and this is what creates a culture.

There are many reasons why disrespect is not ideal. Perhaps most obviously, it's unpleasant for the recipient. No one likes to be yelled at. No one feels good when told she is incompetent. It's at best mildly discomfiting and at worst can be a nagging source of misery, discouragement, and low self-esteem.

But if that's not enough to sound alarm for change, consider this. The results are in, and they paint a bleaker, eye-opening picture: When staff are disrespected, medical errors increase. When a team exchanges harsh words, patient care suffers. Suddenly, this isn’t just about staff satisfaction. How your caregivers interact with one another outside your hospital room door has a significant effect on whether an error is going to be made inside it – with your care, with your body.

I wrote a piece in Aeon Magazine today about the link between disrespect and medical errors, and the insidious effect of a medical culture in which even seemingly small acts of aggression and impatience among staff can degrade trust, discourage reporting, and ultimately lead to increased errors and worse patient care. I explore how this plays out and how we can combat it.

Because it's important that we do. If not for those of us who work in hospitals – for our patients. And we can't fix it until we recognize it as the quality of care hazard it is.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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