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How a doctor's bad attitude can affect your health - and lead to medical errors

Posted on Mar 11, 2013

A Washington Post article highlights the issue of rage among doctors in the operating room, causing serious medical errors. This is an issue that has been widely underplayed in the past, but is now getting the attention that it deserves.

For several decades, doctors’ bad behaviors were excused by hospital administrators, putting the blame on their stressful jobs. Although only a small percentage (3-5%) of doctors portray angry behavior, their effects can be widespread – and often, patients pay the price. A doctor letting his or her anger get out of control is similar to a driver who succumbs to road rage, and the results can be equally disastrous.

In one instance, a doctor’s bad behavior caused the death of a patient when he refused to address a nurse’s diagnosis. The nurse called the doctor at home concerned that the patient developed aspiration pneumonia – the doctor angrily brushed her off and the patient died.

Equally disturbing, a 2011 survey of hospital administrators found that 71% said disruptive behavior occurs at least monthly at their hospital, and 11% said that it was a daily occurrence. 99% of hospital administrators believed that this behavior negatively affected patient care, while 21% linked it to patient harm.

Thankfully, hospital administrators are starting to take action against these behaviors. A 2009 regulation by the Joint Commission requires hospitals to implement procedures for dealing with disruptive behavior.

As a response, several hospitals are adopting a “zero tolerance” approach and will often send doctors to programs with anger management counseling. These programs have been developed at several universities, including University of Virginia and most recently, GWU.

Studies have yet to prove whether these programs truly change the behaviors of doctors is currently unknown. But we can only hope that doctors will strive to put patient safety first, and check their anger at the door of the OR.

Read the full article from the Washington Post.