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Golden Rule: Do Unto Doctors…

It’s human nature to bristle when someone is rude to you. Despite efforts to maintain a professional veneer, rudeness can impact how people respond — even professionals who witness discourteous behavior all the time. This may be evident when a customer service representative stops being helpful, or when a referee seems to call more fouls against the team supported by an insolent player, coach or even fan.

One might assume that physicians would be above this sort of reactionary behavior, but apparently not, according to a recent study led by a professor at the University of Florida. Human nature is human nature, and being rude in an effort to get our way is not always as effective as some might think.

In the study, the researchers wanted to find out how doctors respond when patients (or their advocates) are rude to them. The study discovered that rudeness can actually affect doctors enough to interfere with their cognitive functioning without them realizing it. In fact, doctors who endured rudeness performed consistently poorly across all 11 measures compared to a control group (who did not experience rudeness from patients). The study’s measures included diagnostic accuracy, information sharing, therapy plan and communication. Furthermore, these negative impacts can last all day long — so people shouldn’t think they can be rude in the morning and expect all to be forgotten when their doctors make hospital rounds in the evening.

Regardless of how we feel when seeing a doctor, it’s worth keeping our agitation in check. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that medical errors rank as the third-leading cause of death in the United States — and rudeness accounts for more than 40 percent of medical errors, the study found.

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