Surgeons Who Are Rude to Patients Might Pose Problems in the OR, Study Suggests

Associated Press
Photo credit: AP Photo/Molly Riley

From Dr. Oz The Good Life

Surgeons who are rude to patients and others might pose a problem in the operating room, according to new research published in JAMA Surgery linking unprofessional doctor behavior with infections and other surgery complications.

The researchers say the results of their February 2017 study show why it's important to speak up when doctors behave badly.

Complications were most common in patients whose surgeons had received lots of earlier complaints about their behavior, the researchers found. The complaints were typically filed via unsolicited phone calls to hospitals from unhappy patients or their relatives.

Post-surgery problems were 14 percent more common in patients whose surgeons had at least 14 complaints in the last two years, compared with patients whose doctors received few or no complaints.

Some examples of rude surgeon behavior included:

  • A man reported getting this response when asking about his wife's upcoming surgery: "Look, your wife will die without this procedure. If you want to ask questions instead of allowing me to do my job, I can just go home and not do it."
  • Another caller reported seeing a doctor berate a nurse, saying, "It was difficult to watch someone try to humiliate another person like that. I was embarrassed and it made me feel vulnerable."

These reports are sometimes gathered as part of a hospital's bid to improve the quality of its care. They're shared with doctors but typically not with patients, so it could be tough to find out in advance if your surgeon has had lots of complaints. But previous research has shown that sharing negative feedback with doctors can result in better behavior, fewer subsequent complaints, and fewer malpractice claims, says lead study author William Cooper, MD, MPH, of Vanderbilt University's Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy.

The study highlights why it's important for patients to report rude behavior so that "hospitals can make it right," Cooper says.

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed 2011-2013 data from seven medical centers taking part in a national surgery quality improvement program. About 800 surgeons and 32,000 adult patients were involved, 11 percent of whom experienced surgery-related complications.

More than a dozen types of procedures were performed on the people included in the study. There were nearly 11 complications per surgeon on average. These complications included surgery-site infections, urinary problems, pneumonia, and other problems that can be avoided when teams work well together, the researchers say.

Dr. Cooper says a surgeon's rude behavior might affect patients' outcomes in several ways. Surgeons who behave poorly with patients might act the same with their operating room colleagues, leading to distractions, low morale, and the potential for preventable medical errors. Or rude behavior might reflect poor training and could make it tough for surgeons to find top-quality colleagues willing to work with them.

According to an accompanying journal editorial, the study might help counter the perception that unsolicited complaints should be readily dismissed as subjective, because they might reflect issues with patient care.