It's common sense that if you're rude to somebody, they probably won't be terribly nice to you back. That's why, generally speaking, we try to use our best manners. But if the person you're being brusque with is a doctor, there's a lot more at stake. A new Tel Aviv University study published in Pediatrics suggests that when parents are unkind to doctors, their children receive poorer care.
For the study, the researchers had actors tell doctors and nurses handling plastic babies in simulated medical emergencies, "I knew we should have gone to a better hospital where they don’t practice Third World medicine." Other actors simply expressed their concern for the baby's well being. When the parent spoke harshly of the hospital, the staff made more mistakes, communicated less effectively, got medical procedures wrong, and made less accurate diagnoses throughout the entire day.
"Exposure to rudeness debilitated the very collaborative mechanisms recognized as essential for patient care and safety," the authors concluded.
Lead author Dr. Arieh Riskin conducted another study finding similar effects when the comment was coming from another doctor, even when that doctor's colleagues didn't consciously register it.
Dr. Peter Bamberger, another author of the latest study, told The New York Times that the complaints doctors receive don't have to be extreme to have a negative effect. "They weren’t going ballistic, they weren’t violent. They just said things that weren’t so pleasant for doctors to hear," he said.
However, doctors were less likely to get thrown off by inconsiderate comments if they played a video game beforehand that forced them to grow accustomed to angry faces. The paper suggests that physicians should learn strategies to avoid getting distracted by rude behavior as part of their training.
Patients, in the meantime, are better off not giving them such a distraction in the first place.