Treating others the way you would like to be treated is a wise way to behave, even if you are sick, worried and/or exhausted. It makes sense that you will have a better relationship with your doctor, or other healthcare professional, if you are nice to him/her. After all, medical professionals are people too and no one likes it when others treat them rudely. How do you treat your doctors?
No one wants to feel that who they are impacts how people treat them, yet people are consciously and unconsciously biased. And bias treatment of others happens in the doctor’s office more frequently than you might think.
Patients can be biased against their doctors.
Although in one large survey, 50% of doctors admit to holding biased opinions about their patients, it turns out that the opposite is true as well.
A recent survey by WebMD/Medscape, in collaboration with STAT, showed that patients frequently make biased, rude comments about their doctor’s personal characteristics. The survey, “Patient Prejudice: When Credentials Aren’t Enough” analyzes the responses from 1,186 healthcare providers, including 822 physicians, 100 registered nurses, 160 nurse practitioners and 104 physician assistants.
How often do patients treat their doctors badly?
The WebMD/Medscape survey results show that there is widespread mistreatment of doctors and other healthcare professionals:
- 59% had heard offensive remarks about a personal characteristic in the past five years — mainly about their age, gender, race, or ethnicity.
- 47% had a patient ask for a different healthcare professional, or ask for a referral to someone other than the one their doctor recommended.
- 14% reported that a patient submitted a written complaint about their personal characteristics.
Furthermore, another study, conducted at University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine (UCSF) found similar cases of biased patients mistreating doctors. The study, published in JAMA Network in October, 2019, shows biased behavior ranging from “patient refusal of care and explicit racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks to belittling compliments or jokes“.
This can happen to any doctor. Anywhere.
The WebMD/Medscape survey found these discriminatory comments were widespread across all groups. However, African-American and Asian-American doctors were more likely to hear these comments than white doctors. Additionally, female doctors were victims more often than males.
What characteristics of the doctors were patients commenting about?
According to the WebMD/Medscape survey, doctors report hearing offensive comments about the following characteristics, in order of descending frequency:
- Ethnicity/national origin
- Political views
Similarly, but not included in the above list, the report states that patients made rude comments about:
- A doctor’s (perceived) sexuality
- Where a doctor went to medical school
- A doctor’s smoking habit
Can being rude to your doctor impact your care?
The doctor-patient relationship definitely suffers when patients make offensive, discriminatory comments. Since a positive doctor-patient relationship is a key part of receiving good care, being rude can negatively impact your care and health.
Doctors interviewed at UCSF report a large negative impact on their emotional health and in their care environment. Many of the doctors said the incidents made them angry, confused, pained and fearful. Moreover, and important for patient care, many found the incidents distracting.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
How do you treat your doctors? Certainly, it is NEVER acceptable to judge or berate someone based on their physical appearance, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or other personal characteristic. Rather, you should treat medical professionals the same way you want others to treat you.
Of course, there are valid reasons for switching doctors, including a doctor who doesn’t listen or provides inferior care. And, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion, or switch to a doctor with more experience in your medical condition.
For more information, read my blog posts:
- Are Patients Biased Against Doctors with Particular Characteristics?
- Why are Doctor-Patient Relationships Vital?
- The Impact of Rudeness in Medicine.
- Are You A Difficult Patient?
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
Note: I updated this post on 11-8-19.