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In present day society, there exists an expectation held by doctors to handle any problems with their patients’ attitudes and continue on with their jobs. However, research in this particularly unique topic has found that this pressure can greatly and negatively impact the performance of doctors everywhere.

The rudeness of patients has been proven to negatively affect the performance of healthcare providers.

Image Source: Howard Kingsnorth

A series of studies led by University of Florida Professor of Management Amir Erez and doctoral student Trevor Foulk attempted to find out the reasons why doctors make medical errors. These errors are extremely impactful. According to a separate John Hopkins study, about 250,000 deaths in the U.S. are attributed to medical errors. This statistic would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in the nation.

In the first study, it was found that a doctor’s chronic lack of sleep could cause poor judgment that resulted in 10-20% of a variance in performance. Their next study revealed something even more shocking: patient rudeness accounts for 40% of a variance in performance.

These results were found when the researchers tested 39 neonatal intensive care unit teams consisting of two doctors and two nurses in five different scenarios. The teams were asked to treat infant mannequins in emergency situations, all while an actress played the role of an angry, frantic mother who was assigned to berate half the teams (the other half served as a control group). The results were decisive: teams that were under pressure performed poorly, in comparison to the control group, in all 11 of the study’s measures, which included diagnostic accuracy, therapy planning, communication, and more.

Following the experiment, a post-intervention study was performed in which the teams were asked to record a diary regarding their thoughts about the mother. It was found that while the teams recognized that the mother was angry with them midway through the experiment, they forgot by the end of the day. In other words, after the experiment had concluded, none of the doctors and nurses seemed to remember the negative stimuli that had been affecting them. This finding raises the issue that professionals in the medical field may not seem to understand the potentially drastic effects that their social interactions with patients can have on their performance and suggests that this should be addressed to reduce the number of medical errors made.

Feature Image Source: Mad medical clinic :) by Alexander Bolotnov

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