Physician disrespect impedes patient safety

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Physician disrespect of their co-workers and patients is fairly common and that it stymies efforts to improve patient safety…


“I just love working here!” my nurse told me. “We have great supervision, I have wonderful colleagues – we all help each other in an emergency. The doctors are really responsive and I feel like I am doing important work. I thought I would only stay for a year because oncology is so hard, but I’ve been here ten and I still love it.”


This is what we want to hear from the people who are taking care of us.


But sometimes we don’t. In two articles by patient safety leader Lucien Leape and his colleagues recently published in Academic Medicine, we learn that physician disrespect of their co-workers and patients is fairly common and that it stymies efforts to improve patient safety. The two papers describe this phenomenon in detail and suggest what hospitals and health systems can do to build a “culture of respect.”


While the audience for these articles is medical educators, clinicians and hospital administrators, those of us who are interested in people’s engagement in their health care should take a look.


The authors:


— Recognize the existence of what we have long suspected: that health care is organized around a physician ethos that favors their “individual privilege and autonomy” – as opposed to collaboration, teamwork and our inclusion in decisions about our treatment.


— Validate our experience of being disrespected by some of our clinicians, for example, when our questions are met with disdain, when we are excluded from decisions about our preferences for care, or when we are not provided an honest explanation when things go wrong.


— Note that disrespect is reflected in the organization of health care, through such common occurrences as the disregard of the value of our time manifested by long hours spent in waiting rooms and requests that we fill out that questionnaire on our medical history for each clinician for each visit.



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