Rude Surgeon May Be a Sign of Increased Operating Room Error Risk: Study

Surgeons who are rude to patients may be more likely to make operating room mistakes, according to the findings of a new study. 

Researchers with the Vanderbilt University’s Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy report that the more complaints a surgeon receives about his or her behavior from patients, the more likely they are to be associated with surgical complications. The findings were published last week in JAMA Surgery.

The study looked at data from seven academic medical centers from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2013. It involved about 800 surgeons, as well as about 32,000 patients 18 or older, who underwent inpatient or outpatient operations at one of the participating centers. The researchers looked at the number and types of unsolicited patient observations for their surgeon over a two-year period before their operation occurred.

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Researchers found that surgeons who had received at least 14 complaints over a two-year period from patients were 14% more likely to be linked to post-surgical complications than peers who received less complaints. They hypothesize that those surgeons are more likely to be the targets of medical malpractice claims.

Researchers speculated that the correlation could mean that those surgeons are also rude to other healthcare workers in the operating room, resulting in a higher risk of errors, or it could be a reflection of overall poor training.

“The distribution of malpractice claims among physicians is not random; a small number of clinicians account for a disproportionate share of total cases of and expenditures associated with malpractice,” the researchers noted. “Studies designed to understand why some physicians are associated with greater numbers of malpractice claims have identified certain surgical specialties, higher clinical activity relative to peers, and unsolicited patient observations as associated with higher risk. Of the factors identified, however, unsolicited patient observations have the strongest association with risk of malpractice claims.”

The study indicates that the correlation between complaints and surgical complications remained the same even when looking at different types of patients, operations and surgeons, and notes that the data was obtained from geographically diverse areas.

“If extrapolated to the entire United States, where 27,000,000 surgical procedures are performed annually, failures to model respect, communicate effectively, and be available to patients could contribute to more than 350,000 additional complications and more than $3 billion in additional costs to the US health care system each year,” the researchers warned.


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