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Chris Nace
Chris Nace
Attorney • (202) 930-0292

Don’t Be Bullied at the Hospital

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We’ve all heard that it is critical to be an active participant in our health care: we need to ask questions, look things up, get second opinions, etc. But it is critical to continue playing an active–and forceful–role in our health care even when at the hospital.

Consider a story that recently appeared in the New York Times:

It was the middle of the night, and Laura Silverthorn, a nurse at a hospital in Washington, knew her patient was in danger.

The boy had a shunt in his brain to drain fluid, but he was vomiting and had an extreme headache, two signs that the shunt was blocked and fluid was building up. When she paged the on-call resident, who was asleep in the hospital, he told her not to worry.

After a second page, Ms. Silverthorn said, “he became arrogant and said, ‘You don’t know what to look for — you’re not a doctor.’ ”

He ignored her third page, and after another harrowing hour she called the attending physician at home. The child was rushed into surgery.

“He could have died or had serious brain injury,” Ms. Silverthorn said, “but I was treated like a pest for calling in the middle of the night.”

Thankfully in this instance there was a nurse who took control of her patient’s care and acted. But this highlights the fact that it is OK–in fact necessary–for people to be active in their health care and not get bullied by physicians.

If you have questions or you don’t believe that you are being treated the way you deserve, ask questions and demand responses. Of course, your health care providers are the professionals, and most give very good, attentive care and take great pride in their work. But trust your instincts. Like any profession, their are providers who are simply too busy to listen to you:

Her experience is borne out by surveys of hospital staff members, who blame badly behaved doctors for low morale, stress and high turnover. (Ms. Silverthorn said she had been brought to tears so many times that she was trying to start her own business and leave nursing.)

Recent studies suggest that such behavior contributes to medical mistakes, preventable complications and even death.

It’s not right for physicians to bully nurses or other doctors. And it can be dangerous:

Another survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization, found that 40 percent of hospital staff members reported having been so intimidated by a doctor that they did not share their concerns about orders for medication that appeared to be incorrect. As a result, 7 percent said they contributed to a medication error.

There might not always be a Laura Silverthorn looking out for you, so it is imperative that you play an active and strong role in your health care.