Be Nice – Your Diagnosis May Depend on it

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Practice Areas: Personal Injury

It may seem like common sense: don’t be rude to the people that take care of you. This is particularly true of doctors and nurses. While doctors and nurses are taught to be objective and professional, studies done by several different international groups in the last two years have shown that rude behavior not only affects the performance of medical professionals with one another, but also with their patients.

Rude Parents

A study conducted by Drs. Arieh Riskin, Peter Baumberger and several other physicians and published in the journal Pediatrics in 2015 indicates a decrease in a medical team’s overall performance when subjected to rude comments and other negative elements. The study showed that diagnostic skills and procedural and technical abilities decreased significantly in both doctors and nurses.

To be sure, high emotions are nothing new to medical teams; the nature of the job contributes to a significant amount of stress. The reasons are obvious: when the average worker makes a mistake, generally they can expect a reprimand or, at worst, to be fired. When a medical professional makes a mistake, however, people’s lives may be put in danger. As a result, there isn’t always time for niceties between professionals. As a result, medical professionals learn to deal with high levels of stress and to focus intently on the job at hand, as any loss of focus may lead to endangering a patient’s life. Because of this, most doctors and nurses develop thick skins and the ability to block out stimuli that is not relevant.

Dealing with Distraction

However, rudeness from the outside, someone not on the team, has a more destructive effect. Part of the reason, according to Baumberger, as reported in a New York Times article, is that medical professionals must decide whether the rude comments are a threat and whether the comments are likely to escalate, causing the doctors and nurses to divert cognitive resources from the task at hand to external concerns.

Rude Patients

While the previous study dealt primarily with parents whose children are getting treatment, another study, originally published by The British Medical Journal Quality and Safety, originally published in in 2016 and summarized by Australian Network News, reinforces the findings, this time focusing primarily on patient behavior.

According to the British study, patient behaviors -- such as being demanding, being helpless, being aggressive, ignoring the doctor’s advice, questioning the doctor’s competence and being cynical -- may cause doctors to be distracted.

Your Own Best Interests

According to the study, these behaviors affect the accuracy of diagnosis, among other things. According to the study, doctors were six percent more likely to miss a simple diagnosis and up to 42 percent more likely to miss a complex diagnosis. However, researchers suggested the percentages may actually be higher, as the doctors were aware they were part of a study, which may have influenced the outcome.

Overall, the conclusion of these studies suggest that, like most professionals, doctors and other medical professionals are more likely to perform best when not threatened or distracted. This may well be worth remembering if you or a loved one is seeking a medical diagnosis.

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