An interesting new study finds that doctors and nurses may be very sensitive to criticism or scolding by patients, which could affect their concentration and place patients at risk.
The study which was conducted in Israel, focused on pediatric patients. In the study, doctors and nurses from several neonatal intensive care units were put through mock clinical scenarios. They used mannequins in place of sick infants, and professional actors were roped in to play the role of parents of the pediatric patients. When these parents scolded the teams, or criticized them for not doing their jobs properly, the researchers found a significant drop in the performance of the team.
Comments like, “I knew we should have gone to another hospital”, were found to impact the team’s performance. Overall, when doctors and nurses who were subjected to critical comments from the active parents were compared to other medical personnel who were not exposed to such comments, the researchers found an overall drop in performance on measures. This included those measures related to accuracy of diagnosis, information sharing, and the amount of time taken to diagnose the patient.
Communication between members of the team was severely impacted in this critical situation. In fact, the researchers believe that such criticism seems to have a much worse impact on the performance of medical health professionals than sleep deprivation, a known concern for medical safety.
The results of the study are interesting, but this is not the first study that has reported on these types of findings. An earlier study conducted by the same researchers at the University of Florida found that medical coverage for medical professional performance was impacted when team members included rude or hostile colleagues.
The researchers say that such criticism seems to impact doctor’s behavior, because it directly impacts their cognitive abilities. Physicians and Nurses are not able to focus on the diagnosis or care of the patient as well as they should, and are not as able to make the critical decisions. At the very least, such criticism while doctors are in the process of caring for a patient, could distract the doctor from the important medical care and possibly raise risk for a medical error.
The results of the study are even more interesting because they come in the context of heightened awareness of patient rights, and the need for patients to speak up about their own safety. Patients are encouraged, and rightly so, to ask questions about their own medical care and to take a much more proactive role in their treatment. However, as the study shows, politeness can help enhance care when you are raising questions about your treatment, or the care of loved ones.
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