Bad Blood – How to Prevent Staff Behavior Problems That Can Negatively Impact Patient Care

Posted on  February 27, 2018


Can’t we all just get along? Unfortunately, in the case of many doctors and nurses, the answer to that question appears to be “no.”

According to “The Doctor-Nurse Behavior Survey” conducted by the American College of Physician Executives, outrageous behavior between doctors and nurses is still common in most healthcare organizations.

In this article, we are going to look at what types of bad behavior are common and then present some tips that doctors can use to prevent those behavioral problems from ever occurring in the first place.

First, let’s take a quick, closer look at that survey …

One of the first things that catches a reader’s attention is the survey responses – there are stories of doctors throwing instruments in anger … of nurses banding together to get a doctor blackballed … of doctors calling nurses stupid in front of patients … of nurses spreading nasty rumors about doctors … and it goes on and on.

In fact, in the survey 97.4% of respondents said their health organization experiences behavior problems between doctors and nurses on a frequent basis. The survey was sent to 13,000 doctors and nurses – of those that participated in the survey, 67% were nurses and 33% were doctors.

As for the frequency of the behavioral incidents, about 30% of survey participants said bad behavior between doctors and nurses occurred several times a year, while another 30% said it happened weekly, and about 25% said it occurred monthly. Some 10% of respondents said they witnessed problems between doctors and nurses every single day.

Common behavior problems cited included:

  • Yelling (73.3% of respondents)
  • Cursing (49.4%)
  • Degrading comments and insults (84.5%)
  • Refusing to work together (38.4%)
  • Refusing to speak to each other (34.3%)
  • Spreading malicious rumors (17.1%)
  • Inappropriate joking (45.5%)
  • Trying to get someone disciplined unjustly (32.3%)
  • Trying to get someone fired unjustly (18.6%)
  • Throwing objects (18.9%)
  • Sexual harassment (13.4%)
  • Physical assault (2.8%)

Alarmingly, in many cases the bad behavior spilled over and affected the quality of care patients received. Whether it’s insensitive comments that make patients feel uncomfortable or actions that put lives at risk, these types of behaviors are simply unacceptable in modern healthcare.

So What Can You Do to Ensure Behavior Problems Don’t Infiltrate Your Practice& Diminish the Level of Care Patients Receive?

According to many nurses, it’s simple gestures that can make the most difference. These gestures include:

  • Saying “please” and “thank you” instead of “Get me this or that.”
  • Asking a nurse what he or she thinks about a patient or situation.
  • Briefing the nurse before talking to a patient.
  • Debriefing the nurse after a discussion with the patient.
  • Learning about the rhythms of the nurse’s work day.

These simple acts can create the foundation for teamwork, which will eliminate workplace stress and go a long way toward building a practice where patients feel welcome and receive the best medical care possible.

After all, if you are going to live up to the Hippocratic Oath, which says “First, do no harm,” you are going to need help; you can’t do it all on your own. A team of nurses who feel valued and respected will help produce a healthier work environment and a practice where patient safety always comes first.

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