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Hospital Healthcare Europe

Patients unwilling to challenge doctors


7 April, 2008  

Patients are more willing to challenge nurses than doctors on issues pertaining to their own safety according to a study published in journal Quality and Safety in Health Care.

Around 10% of hospital inpatients experience adverse events due to their treatment, and various campaigns have been initiated to encourage patients to play an active role in improving the safety of their healthcare.

In the UK, for example, the National Patient Safety Agency’s (NPSA) recently instigated a “Clean your hands campaign” aimed at reducing rates of hospital acquired infection. As a part of this initiative patients are encouraged to challenge healthcare staff as to whether they have washed their hands prior to any interaction.

Patients, however, and especially less-educated men, were unwilling to challenge authoritative health professionals on such matters.

Women were more willing than men to pose questions to healthcare professionals, especially nurses, rather than doctors.

The study found that the majority of patients were willing to ask healthcare staff factual questions regarding the delivery of their healthcare, such as “how long will I be in hospital?” or “what are the alternatives to surgery?”. Significantly fewer, though, were willing to pose challenging questions – such as “how is the procedure done?” – for fear of causing offence.

Significant improvements in patients’ willingness to ask challenging questions to doctors or nurses was achieved if the patient was instructed to ask such a question by the doctor.

The authors conclude: “Clinicians and patients need to be in agreement of what is considered appropriate questions for the patient to ask, because patients need to feel they can ask questions that may be perceived as challenging without causing offence to those involved in their healthcare treatment.”

Quality and Safety in Health Care