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Could patient rudeness be a cause of doctor error?

Every day, doctors around the U.S. and globally are putting their training, experience and knowledge to practice, aiming to cure and care for patients. Especially in the U.S., they undergo rigorous study and training, spending years—if not decades—learning and perfecting their craft.

But, nevertheless, medical errors at the hands of doctors do occur on a daily basis. While the causes of a doctor error can be numerous and varied, it's generally assumed that it's a result of overwork, distraction or something similar. However, a new Israeli study suggests something else can be a cause: rude patients. 

Not angry, but rude

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, used actor "parents" and realistic plastic baby "patients," to simulate the reaction from doctors and medical staff, a common crisis scenario technique used to train medical personnel. The researchers instructed the "parents" to refrain from anger but to act rudely to staff, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

What they found was that even routine medical procedures and communication were affected by the rudeness. Both individual skills and team performance of the medical professionals suffered as a result of the patient's rudeness, which consisted of making ill-mannered statements such as "I knew we should have gone to a better hospital where they don’t practice Third World medicine."

According to the researchers, a rude remark had the effect of deteriorating the quality of the doctor's care for the rest of the day. Even mild incivility or an offhand remark can cause doctors to lose patience and work less effectively as teams. 

While it may be disheartening to imagine that highly trained individuals can be affected by mild incivility, the study's researchers remind readers: “We are human beings; we are affected by rudeness.”

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