Could bullying and intimidation compromise your healthcare?

A culture of intimidation and bullying in the healthcare industry could be contributing to the proliferation of medical mistakes.

A recent Slate magazine expose revealed that, in many hospitals, clinics, medical offices and other care facilities around the country, a culture of workplace bullying and intimidation in the healthcare industry is leading to compromised patient care, medical mistakes, negligence, and errors. While the Slate report focused mainly on recent incidents, anecdotal evidence and compiled reports (one by the Joint Commission, the governing body responsible for accrediting healthcare facilities around the country) indicate that this sort of unacceptable behavior has been widespread for years. The anecdotal reports seem to be predominately coming from nurses, technicians and other "lower-level" employees allegedly suffering harassment, degradation, berating, scolding, verbal abuse, assault and other intimidation from doctors and administrators who are higher on the proverbial "food chain" than they are.

The Slate news piece highlights such troubling incidents as an operating room nurse who had a surgical scalpel thrown at her by a physician who wasn't immediately handed a preferred tool, another nurse who was subjected to a surgeon throwing a bloody sponge at her and numerous instances of nurses being subjected to yelling or screamed obscenities and having their intelligence repeatedly questioned by doctors. One of the most egregious examples cited in the report is that of a nurse who relayed an incident when an on-call cardiologist refused to see an obviously upset and short-of-breath patient. The nurse was instructed by the condescending doctor to give the patient an anti-anxiety medication - and to take a dose of the drug herself - instead of requesting additional assistance. Later that same day, the patient was admitted to the hospital's intensive care unit suffering from congestive heart failure. The outcome of that case wasn't given in the article, but such sub-standard care could easily result in the wrongful death of a patient if his or her life-threatening condition isn't diagnosed in a timely manner.

How does this contribute to medical negligence claims?

The Joint Commission has conducted numerous studies regarding the effect that a hostile environment (including one in which nurses, technicians, orderlies, other staff members and even patients feel bullied or intimidated) can have on the quality of medical care provided. It has resoundingly been shown that, when this sort of culture exists - one in which some staffers feel empowered to bully or demean others - patient care inevitably suffers.

Patients subjected to these behaviors have less confidence in their care and may be more likely to bring medical malpractice claims when mistakes occur during the course of their treatment. Furthermore, when nurses feel uncomfortable stepping forward regarding errors made by physicians who have in the past bullied or demeaned them, those errors are much more likely to become systemic in nature and affect a greater number of patients.

Preventable medical errors constitute a huge portion of care-related fatalities each year, with estimates ranging from between 98,000 and 440,000 deaths annually attributable to mistakes. When a bullying culture is allowed to persist at a care facility, mistakes are even more likely, and so are patient injuries or fatalities.

If you have been injured (or someone you love has tragically lost his or her life) due to the negligence, mistake or error of a medical provider, you may be able to bring a legal claim. Speak with an experienced medical negligence attorney at the Houston law office of Reich and Binstock, LLP, to learn more about your legal rights and how to hold at-fault parties responsible for the harm they have caused you and your family.

Keywords: negligence, medical negligence, medical mistakes, medical malpractice