Photo: Dan Saelinger

Photo: Dan Saelinger

A Surprising Way to Avoid Medical Errors in the Hospital

Help Providers See You as a Person, Not Just a Patient

Most of us have a bad waiter or waitress experience. Maybe they were rude, made a mistake with your dish, or overcharged you. Similarly, people have been treated poorly in the hospital, as a patient or family member of a patient. The stakes are high when you’re a patient because you’re sick and trying to get better but the health care system feels so big and confusing. The last thing you want is a rude doctor who you can’t understand because they’re talking too fast or using too much medical jargon. Disrespect in the hospital is a problem that many people have experienced yet not enough people have tried to solve. We’ll give you a better look at this problem and offer concrete advice for how you can be a more engaged patient. Our goal is to help you improve you odds of staying safe in the hospital.

Consumer Reports Finds Striking Link Between Respectful Treatment and Patient Safety

Our colleagues at Consumer Reports surveyed 1,200 recently hospitalized patients and found a striking link between respectful treatment and patient safety. They found:

  • Patients who said they rarely received respect from the medical staff were two and a half times as likely to experience a medical error—such as a hospital infection, a wrong diagnosis, an adverse drug reaction, or a prescribing mistake—as those who thought they were usually treated well.
  • 29 percent said an error occurred during hospitalization.
  • About one in four said that medical personnel did not consistently treat them as adults able to be involved in their own care or “like a person.”
  • One third said doctors or nurses didn’t always listen to them without interrupting.
  • 34 percent felt that their wishes about treatment were not always honored.
  • 21 percent thought they weren’t always treated fairly and without discrimination.
  • One in five worried about being “a bother or a pest” to busy hospital staff.
  • Those who felt very uncomfortable asking questions about their care and the steps being taken to keep them safe were 50 percent more likely to experience at least one medical error, compared with those who felt very comfortable.

Respectful treatment is when a doctor avoids using medical jargon while talking to you, makes eye contact with you, listens to you, answers your questions, and sees you as more than patient in Room 205 with heart disease, but as [your name].

“It’s rare for a health care professional to be outright rude, but things like sitting when your patient is sitting, taking the time to explain things thoroughly, or making eye contact don’t happen as often as they should,” says Orly Avitzur, M.D., a Consumer Reports medical adviser.

Improve Your Communication in the Hospital

Photo: Dan Saelinger

Photo: Dan Saelinger

Just like you might have a technique for getting the best meal possible at your favorite restaurant, such as telling the server that you want to order your dish “medium spicy,” you can prepare yourself to have a better encounter with your health care providers. It’s essential for making sure they see you as a human being that deserves dignity and respect.

In addition to the necessary task of teaching medical providers how to protect patients from medical errors, we believe that doctors and nurses have a responsibility to learn how to be better communicators. Most patients are not even willing to ask caregivers to wash their hands. Providers need to up their game and invite patients to partner. Hospital leaders should establish a hospital culture that is oriented towards transparency, accountability and mutual respect. As a group of Harvard Medical School doctors and researchers wrote in the journal Academic Medicine, “Creating a culture of respect in health care is part of the larger challenge of creating a culture of safety.”

Five Ways to Get Respect (& Better Care) in a Hospital

Share Your Story to Help Address this Problem
Share your experience with Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project by completing our survey here. What is your experience with treatment by healthcare professionals? Has disrespectful treatment or lack of dignity inhibited open communication between you and your health care providers?