Is rudeness here to stay?

A spike in rude behavior emerged as one of the pandemic's many societal consequences and has not receded alongside the public health crisis. 

The uptick in poor behavior is likely driven by increased stress and isolation from society, The Atlantic's Olga Khazan reported in 2022. In many cases, these stressors mean people are easily set off when encountering innocuous requests, Keith Humphreys, PhD, a psychiatry professor at Stanford (Calif.) University, told The Atlantic

The trend has hit healthcare hard. Hospitals and health systems nationwide have reported an uptick in disrespectful, discriminatory or violent behaviors from patients since the pandemic. Nearly 24 percent of physicians reported experiencing workplace mistreatment in 2020, including verbal mistreatment or abuse, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open. 

Newer research suggests uncivil behavior has continued. In a 2022 survey of 2,575 nurses, 48 percent reported a small or significant increase in workplace violence. This number is up 119 percent from March 2021, according to National Nurses United, which conducted the survey. 

"Multiple studies have documented that incivility is common in healthcare and has been associated with burnout and intent to leave," researchers wrote in a June 2023 study published in Cureus.

A growing body of research also suggests incivility toward healthcare workers can hinder care quality. A study published in Pediatrics involving 24 neonatal intensive care unit teams across four hospitals in Israel found being exposed to rudeness adversely affected team members' diagnostic and procedural performance. 

"In taking steps to enhance patient safety, policymakers should begin to consider the role played by the subtle and seemingly benign verbal aggression to which medical professionals are subjected on a routine basis," study authors said. 

While there's no telling if the pandemic-era trend is here to stay, healthcare leaders must take immediate steps to protect their workforces from heightened levels of incivility and promote high-quality care. Some health systems, such as Mass General Brigham, have enacted a patient code of conduct to protect staff from harassment and discriminatory behavior. On rare occasions, patients who violate this code may be asked to seek care elsewhere, the Somerville, Mass.-based health system said. 

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