Caring for a sick infant in the NICU is a stressful situation for both parents and medical staff. Watching your child in crisis is one of the scariest things a parent can go through — and there’s no doubt the added stress can have the potential to make any parent take out their fears and frustrations on the staff caring for their child.
But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that parents who are rude to the medical staff could be impacting the quality of care their infant receives. Rudeness by parents was linked to worse performances by medical teams that care for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
According to an article published in The New York Times, the study used the kind of simulated crisis scenarios that are commonly performed to help medical staff practice, using actor “parents” and a realistic plastic baby “patient.” And the rude “mother” in the study said, loud enough for the staff to hear: “I knew we should have gone to a better hospital where they don’t practice third-world medicine.”
What the authors of the study found was that rudeness had adverse consequences not only on diagnostic and intervention parameters, but also on team processes (such as information and workload sharing, helping and communication) central to patient care.
Since medical work is increasingly structured around teams, the findings demonstrate that when rudeness is present, the very collaborative processes that generally enable teams to outperform individuals may break down and the medical staff may not be able to deliver the heightened level of patient care that practitioners have come to expect from them.
The medical staff in the NICU do react to social situations and behaviors like other people do, but in the case of health workers, the impact can be devastating because they are dealing with patients, treatments and life-and-death decisions.
“These findings show that doctors and nurses are human beings vulnerable to the effects of harsh emotions,” said Dr. Brian Alverson, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' section on hospital medicine.
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