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Study Finds Doctors Perform Poorly When Patients are Rude

Study Finds Doctors Perform Poorly When Patients are Rude

Trips to the hospital can be stressful for patients, and sometimes that stress manifests itself as misplaced hostility towards physicians. We might like to think that doctors are well-equipped to deal with rude, adversarial patients, but a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida suggests that rudeness can have devastating effects on a doctor’s performance.

“Rudeness is actually affecting the cognitive system, which directly affects your ability to perform,” said management professor and lead study author Amir Erez in a statement. “The study shows that 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.”

So just how significant is the effect of rudeness on the physicians?

According to Erez, rudeness accounts for more than 40 percent of the variance in practitioner performance. Other factors such as sleep deprivation, for example, account for just 10 to 20 percent of variance in performance.

To assess the impact of patient rudeness on physician performance, Erez and his team studied 39 neonatal intensive care unit teams from Israel. The physicians were faced with five scenarios in which they treated infant medical mannequins for a variety of emergency situations. During the scenarios, some of the teams were scolded by an actress playing the part of the baby’s mother. Other teams in a control group were not scolded by the actress.

At the end of the study, Erez and his team found that the teams that had to deal with the rude mother scored lower in all 11 of the study’s metrics. These included communication, therapy planning, diagnostic accuracy and information sharing.

In a follow-up experiment, Erez and his team were successfully able to mitigate the negative effects of rudeness by conditioning physicians with a computer game designed to raise their threshold of sensitivity to rude behaviors.

“It’s really shocking how well it worked,” said Erez in his conclusions. “They were basically immunized from the effects of rudeness.”

In light of their findings, Erez and his team are urging healthcare facilities to implement new training and intervention programs designed to help physicians cope with rude patients and minimize the effect this behavior can have on their performance and quality of care.