How do you treat your doctors? 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 doctors, or other healthcare professionals, if you are nice to them. After all, medical professionals are people too and no one likes it when others treat them rudely.
Unfortunately, sometimes people treat others a certain way based on who they are — their age, race, religion, ethnicity, etc. People express both conscious and unconscious bias in a variety of settings, including medical offices.
Sadly, 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 patients do the same to doctors.
A recent survey by WebMD/Medscape and STAT showed that patients frequently make biased, rude comments about their doctor’s personal characteristics. Over 1,100 medical professionals responded to the survey, including doctors, registered nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
How often do patients treat their doctors badly?
The WebMD/Medscape survey results show that doctors and other healthcare professionals experience widespread mistreatment:
- 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 UCSF School of Medicine found similar cases of biased patients mistreating doctors. The study shows biased behavior ranging from “patient refusal of care and explicit racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks to belittling compliments or jokes“.
Biased treatment 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 did patients comment on?
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 in UCSF study 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.
Now is a good time to give yourself a moment and consider how 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.
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
Note: I updated this post on 11-8-19.