In pop culture, surgeons often get portrayed as technically gifted, but with boorish tendencies. In reality, if a surgeon is rude to the rest of their team, it can impact patient safety, according to a new study.
The study looked at interactions between surgeons and their teams, finding that patients of surgeons who behaved unprofessionally around their colleagues in the prior three years before the operation had more complications post-surgery.
“It would seem that organizations interested in ensuring optimal patient outcomes should focus on addressing surgeons whose behavior toward other medical professionals may increase their patients’ risk for adverse outcomes,” the authors of the study wrote.
Specifically, the study published in JAMA Surgery found 14.1% of patients whose surgeons had been reported by coworkers at least four times experienced medical or surgical complications, such as infections. Whereas, surgical complications occurred in 10.7% of patients whose surgeons had zero reports of poor behavior.
The data suggest that surgeons who model unprofessional behavior could broadly create an environment in which people don’t communicate effectively or are afraid to speak up or ask for help, according to the authors.
Another takeaway is that unprofessional behavior is outside the norm for surgeons.
“The vast majority [of surgeons] take care of their patients, are respectful to their coworkers,” said Dr. William Cooper, the study’s corresponding author and a professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “A very small proportion account for a disproportionate share of adverse outcomes.”
Researchers examined data on nearly 13,700 patients who underwent operations performed by 202 surgeons from a data set in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program, which is designed to track and improve surgical care.
The study’s limitations include its relatively small sample size and the subjective nature of coworkers’ reports.
Listen to the authors discuss “Coworker Reports of Unprofessional Behavior by Surgeons and Surgical Complications in Their Patients” here.
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