Doctor talking to stressed mature male patient at office
January 16, 2017

Being rude to your doctor could be deadly, study finds

Although it is never officially included on death certificates or in mortality statistics, a new study has found that medical error is responsible for more than 250,000 fatalities in the US each year, a figure which would make it the third leading cause of death in the country.

Writing in the British medical journal BMJ, surgeons from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine presented evidence that medical error, officially defined as an unintended act or one that does not achieve the desired outcome due to mistakes in planning or execution, significantly contributes to mortality rates and call for better reporting of such incidents.

In fact, according to CNN reports, study authors Dr. Martin Makary and Dr. Michael Daniel said that the estimated 251,454 deaths which occur due to medical error each year in the US would be the third leading cause of death in the country behind only heart disease and cancer. In fact, they believe that the figure would be even higher if home and nursing home deaths were counted.

The number would be far higher than a 1999 study that estimated that deaths caused by medical error were between 44,000 and 98,000 per year, and indicate the need to “make an improvement in patient safety a real priority,” Makary told CNN. He believes that there should something on a death certificate to indicate that medical error is involved, while also making hospitals safer.

How rude behavior could be contributing to such fatalities

“I think doctors and nurses and other medical professionals are the heroes of the patient safety movement and come up with creative innovations to fix the problems,” Makary also told CNN. “But they need the support from the system to solve these problems and to help us help improve the quality of care.”

University of Florida management professor Amir Erez and doctoral student Trevor Foulk also believe that support is an important factor in avoiding death due to medical error, but in a slightly different way. They believe that parents and relatives of patients being treated by doctors need to keep their emotions in check, as being rude to caregivers could have consequences.

In 2015, Erez and Foulk published a study that investigated the impact of rudeness on doctors’ performance. Specifically, they randomly assigned teams of surgeons to participate in a training simulation in which they were either exposed to neutral comments by experts or a mildly rude set of statements unrelated to their performance, and found that those operating in an environment in which they were belittled scored lower on diagnostic and performance evaluations.

While they admit that 10% to 20% of medical errors can be linked to poor judgment on the part of the doctor due to a chronic lack of sleep, the researchers claim that more than 40% of medical errors are linked to rudeness. Rudeness, Erez explained in a statement, “is actually affecting the cognitive system, which directly affects your ability to perform.”

“Even if doctors have the best intentions in mind, as they usually do, they cannot get over rudeness because it interferes with their cognitive functioning without an ability to control it,” he added. “In the medical field, I don’t think they take into account how social interactions affect them, but it’s something they’re starting to pay attention to. The purpose of this research was to identify what’s going on here. Now that we’ve found serious effects, we need to find more realistic interventions.”

-----

Image credit: Thinkstock