Hospital Physicians Increasingly Being ‘Mistreated’ by Patients, Visitors

Nearly 1 in 4 hospital doctors are mistreated at work by patients, visitors and other doctors, and female doctors are nearly two times more likely than male doctors to face this abuse, a new study reveals.

“All members of the health care team share the responsibility to mitigate mistreatment,” said senior study author Dr. Mickey Trockel, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of Evidence Based Innovation for the Stanford WellMD/WellPhD Center.

“Those wielding leadership influence hold particular responsibility to establish policies and expectations of civility and respect from all members of the healthcare community — including patients and visitors,” Trockel added.

In the study, researchers surveyed just over 1,500 doctors on the clinical faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine in September/October 2020 and found that 23.4% reported mistreatment at work during the past year.

Patients and visitors were the main culprits — reported by about 17% of physicians and accounting for more than 70% of all events — followed by other physicians.

The most frequent forms of mistreatment were: verbal, reported by 21.5% of respondents: sexual harassment (5.4%); and physical intimidation or abuse (5.2%).

Women were two times more likely (31%) to report mistreatment than men (15%), and were more likely to encounter sexual harassment and verbal mistreatment.

Mistreatment also varied by race but the number of respondents wasn’t large enough to conduct a detailed analysis by race/ethnicity, according to the authors of the study. The findings were published May 6 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The researchers noted that workplace mistreatment has been associated with increased burnout, lower job performance and depression, and that studies of U.S. physicians over the last decade have found job burnout rates of 40% to 60%.

“To address the issue of physician mistreatment, organizations must first recognize its prevalence and then know where to look,” said study first author Dr. Susannah Rowe, an ophthalmologist at Boston Medical Center and chair of the Wellness and Professional Vitality Council at Boston University Medical Group.

“With the strong association of mistreatment to workplace dissatisfaction and physician burnout, it is imperative that health care organizations take steps to address these issues as quickly as possible for the well-being of their staff, as well as their patients,” Rowe said in a medical center news release.

More information

There’s more on doctor burnout at the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

SOURCE: Boston Medical Center, news release, May 6, 2022

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