Viewpoint: How hospital workplace bullying harms patient safety

Bullying, harassment and other unprofessional behaviors in the hospital workspace can jeopardize patient safety, two authors wrote in The Conversation.

The op-ed was written by Johanna Westbrook, PhD, professor of health informatics and patient safety at Macquarie University in Australia, and Neroli Sunderland, PhD, research fellow at the center for health systems and safety research at Macquarie.

Three ways workplace bullying jeopardizes patient safety, according to the op-ed:

1. Physician depression and medical errors. Hospital workplace bullying has been linked to depression, anxiety and fatigue in health workers. "These symptoms, along with stress and poor staff satisfaction at work, leads to higher staff absenteeism, impacting continuity of patient care and increasing the workload in already overstretched hospital clinics and wards," the authors said.

A survey of staff from over 100 U.S. hospitals found 71 percent of respondents — primarily nurses and physicians — said unprofessional behavior and poor communication contributed to medical errors.

2. Compromised communication. Another study found medical teams treated rudely by an "expert observer" performed significantly worse in a simulated situation where they managed a sick infant compared with teams treated respectfully. "The teams subjected to rudeness shared less information with each other and didn't seek help as often. This led to poorer clinical outcomes for the patients in the simulation," the authors said.

3. Poor patient outcomes. "Even more subtle unprofessional behaviors — such as passive aggression, public criticism of colleagues, or telling offensive jokes — may interfere with teamwork and the quality of patient care," the authors wrote.

large U.S. study including multiple hospitals found patients' observations of negative behaviors among surgeons could predict poor patient outcomes.

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