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Rudeness is all over, including healthcare

Aside from gas prices rising, baby formula shortages, and more, every day we hear stories about rudeness. We seem to have gone from impolite behavior to downright nastiness in many areas, including healthcare.

Is it really an increase, or is it that there is more awareness and reporting of such incidents? This apparent increase seemed to start (or accelerate) at the beginning of the pandemic, during periods of stress and isolation. We hear so many stories of rudeness on flights, to the point that flight attendants and passengers were getting injured, and now they became more like marshals, causing flight diversions for safety reasons. This rudeness seems to have approached an all-time high, as occurrences are everywhere.

And, as we very well know, it has made its way into the world of healthcare. A recent article in Becker’s Hospital Review stated that there has been an uptick in disrespectful, discriminatory, or violent behaviors from patients and families, including verbal mistreatment or abuse, sometime physical. Why? Why are we seeing this? Certainly, some of the contributing factors are stress related to the era of mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and other public health rules. Compliance with these factors, and antagonism against those who do not comply, has led to the creation of a healthcare crisis.

A number of years ago, there was a movement to deal with the disruptive physician. Beginning in 2009, the Joint Commission created a new leadership standard to address disruptive and inappropriate behaviors thought to negatively impact those with whom the physician interacted. When The Joint Commission reviewed hospitals, not only did they want to view the policies, but they wanted to know how they were executed. There has been great success with this initiative.

Now, what about the disruptive patient and family? The Joint Commission has gotten involved here also, stating in June 2021 that these disruptive behaviors can lead to medical errors, contribute to poor patient satisfaction, create preventable adverse outcomes, increase the cost of care, and cause qualified clinicians and executives to seek positions in other, more professional environments.

The sad conclusion is that the heroes in healthcare during the pandemic have now become the targets of stress, frustration, mandates, and rules – and an approach to the solution needs to be found. The message that needs to be delivered has a simple start. Just as we say “Thank you for your service” to a member of our military, let’s start a movement to say the same to all the members of our healthcare delivery system.


John Zelem, MD, FACS

John Zelem, MD, is principal owner and chief executive officer of Streamline Solutions Consulting, Inc. providing technology-enabled, expert physician advisor services. A board-certified general surgeon with more than 26 years of clinical experience, Dr. Zelem managed quality assessment and improvement as a former executive medical director in the past. He developed expertise in compliance, contracts and regulations, utilization review, case management, client relations, physician advisor programs, and physician education. Dr. Zelem is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board.

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