Rude comments in high-pressure medical settings could have potentially deadly consequences for patients, according to a new study.
The study, “The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance“, was published in the September issue of Pediatrics. The study showed that rude and insulting comments from an outside doctor decreased performance among doctors and nurses by more than 50 percent in an exercise involving a hypothetical life-or-death situation.
An experiment was set up involving 24 medical teams from neonatal intensive care units. The teams were exposed to either rude or neutral comments. The rudeness had dramatic effects. The teams who experienced it struggled to cooperate, communicate and do their jobs effectively, all of which caused their performance to plummet. They misdiagnosed the illness; they forget instructions; they didn’t ventilate the patient well; doctors asked for the wrong medication and the nurses mixed the wrong medication. The study indicates that these performance problems could have made the difference between the patient living or dying.
Prior research has shown that none of us easily shrugs off rudeness. Rudeness and disruptive behavior sabotages a person’s working memory, which plays a crucial role in our in-the-moment ability to learn, reason, comprehend and recall information. In a medical setting, this means the doctors and nurses are physically unable to focus past the rude or insulting comment. The doctors and nurses make mistakes and then they can’t recognize or adapt to those mistakes. The study suggests that rudeness could contribute to many of the preventable deaths caused by medical error in U.S. hospitals each year.
Other studies have shown that nearly two thirds of healthcare workers in operating rooms have witnessed rude behavior and nearly one half have been on the receiving end. The authors of the new study theorized that because rudeness is so widespread that the experienced medical teams in the experiment would get over the rude comments and keep working effectively. But the study didn’t turn out that way. One author said, “What we found is that being around any kind of rudeness takes people off track and makes it so they have a very difficult time focusing”.
The study recommends that hospitals need to take a more aggressive stance against rude behaviors among medical staff. Because being rude to one another could be deadly for patients.