The Tragic Consequences of Being Rude in Healthcare

Ever been angry? How about embarrassed, or publicly humiliated?  How long did the feeling last?  Probably longer than you wanted it to. For me, these negative feelings can linger and distract from the current moment or situation I am in. Let’s get real: If someone says something rude to me, I’m mulling over it for at least the next ten minutes…or the whole rest of the evening.

Now picture yourself in that state of mind, hit by a negative or rude personal remark, only you are a nurse or doctor or tech in the middle of surgery, with someone’s life in your hands. The outcome could be deadly, according to the study The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance: A Randomized Trial published in the September, 2015 issue of Pediatrics.

The study was simple: 24 medical teams were given an hour to diagnose and treat a simulated case of necrotizing enterocolitis, a rapid and potentially fatal disease in which a premature newborn’s intestinal tissue becomes inflamed and starts to die. The teams were split into two different groups. One group of teams were told, during their simulation, that a leading ICU expert was observing them. Throughout the simulation, these teams were subject to the “expert” making remarks that he was “not impressed” with their quality of medicine and that they “wouldn’t last a week” in his department. The other group of teams were not subject to any rude comments.

The results were dramatic. The teams that experienced the rude comments struggled to work together and communicate effectively. They misdiagnosed the illness, they failed to ask for help when they needed it, they ordered and mixed wrong doses of medications. Their performance effectiveness took a sharp nosedive-as much as 52% compared with the teams not exposed to the rude comments–in how the team overall diagnosed and treated the illness. In real life, this could have easily been the difference between the infant living or dying.

It’s not hard for me to see how this all makes perfect sense. The psychological responses we have as humans when we are put down does not put us in the best place to think clearly, critically, and in the best interest of others. It’s quite the opposite; a rude remark turns all of our thought processes inward, leaving us hard pressed to focus well on anything outside of the emotional effects of the harsh word. The study proves I am not alone in how I process a rude comment. The stakes, however, are much higher for those who are in the middle of caring for people’s lives.

This study is important. It highlights the reality of the tragic consequences of bullying behavior in healthcare and begs for a strict no tolerance policy.  It also makes you wonder, out of the 210,000-440,000 deaths every year in the US from medical error, how many did rudeness play a role?

How about you? Have you ever experienced rude behavior having an effect on your work or the work of those around you?  I’d like to further the dialogue and provide opportunities for others to share their experiences by inviting you to leave a comment below. Let’s learn from each other, and spread the word on this critical topic.

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6 comments

  1. Danae,
    Thank you for sharing your message. It reigns true that negative comments can truly affect not only our work performance but risk patient safety.
    Bullying is unacceptable and not tolerated. As professionals we need to be cognizant of our actions and how we treat others. Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Danae-

    This was a very interesting and well written blog post. It is also very applicable. I definitely know the feeling of hurt and anger when someone treats me in an uncaring manner, and this feeling is inhibiting. Dealing with these feelings when a life is on the line is not acceptable. Emotional intelligence should be taught in all med schools in some capacity, and training in EI should be provided by hospitals as part of their OLAs.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree that the earlier the effects of rudeness is presented in med school the better, along with formal processes within hospitals to track and be able to stand behind a no tolerance policy. Thank you for reading, and for sharing to help encourage dialogue and awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

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