Demeaning behavior from patients takes emotional toll on physicians, study shows

Interacting with patients who are demeaning toward them is challenging and painful for physicians, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.

U.S. researchers conducted a qualitative study involving attending hospitalists, internal medicine residents and medical students from three campuses affiliated with one academic medical center. They conducted 13 focus groups with 50 study participants from May 9 through Oct. 15, 2018.

The participants reported several types of demeaning behavior from patients, including refusing care, explicit racist, sexist or homophobic remarks and belittling compliments or jokes. The physicians who were targeted with the demeaning behavior reported that it took an emotional toll on them that manifested as exhaustion, self-doubt and cynicism.

Caregivers who were not targeted by demeaning patients, but were a witness to demeaning behavior, reported feeling moral distress as well as an uncertainty of how to respond.

Participants said they needed training on how to effectively deal with demeaning patients as well as clear institutional policies for responding to such events.

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