No excuses: clinicians should never disrespect patients

PAs, NPs, and MDs shouldn't lose sight of the need to deal with patients and their families respectfully.
PAs, NPs, and MDs shouldn't lose sight of the need to deal with patients and their families respectfully.

I recently read a piece in a prominent journal about the ongoing problem of providers mocking their patients during surgical procedures. It was really troubling, and I think it highlights a common disconnect between providers and patients. I believe that most of us who practice medicine would not belittle or degrade our patients in the disturbing ways noted in the piece. However, we're all at risk of putting our own concerns and interests front and center and seeing the patient as little more than an annoyance.

There are endless examples of this, including the language clinicians use to describe patients in charting and documentation. We routinely accuse patients of being “non-compliant.” If a patient says that they don't have a headache, we say “patient denies headache,” as though they are testifying in a court of law and we are suspicious of their motives and truthfulness.

For clinicians who are sick of their patients, social media has provided a new way to express these frustrations. I've seen several PAs post on social media mocking their patients, posting dismissively about “stupid” patients, calling them “junkies,” etc.

I've heard some providers just chalk this up to our need as medical providers and human beings to release the stress that comes with the work we do. But I don't think that theory holds water. I've known far too many PAs, NPs, and MDs who work in unbelievably stressful settings, but they would never, ever lose sight of the sacred belief in the centricity of the patient and the need to deal with them and their families respectfully. It shouldn't matter whether the patient and family are awake, alert, and right in front of us; if the patient is under deep anesthesia; or if we're in the bathroom yukking it up with our medical colleagues after an grueling surgical intervention.

We as medical providers exist to serve our patients. If there are people among us who can't do this job without belittling our patients and their families in private or in public, I would urge those colleagues to explore other employment opportunities.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is a physician assistant in Seattle.

Reference

  1. Zimmerman R. Shameful operating room moments: medical journal on calling out ‘dirtball' doctors. WBUR CommonHealth. August 21, 2015. http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2015/08/doctor-behavior-essay. Accessed September 11, 2015.

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