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Doctors Who Bully

Bullies don't disappear the day we kiss the halls of academia goodbye—they follow us into the "real world." Oppressors find their way into practically every facet of our lives, showing up in the most unlikely places, including the exam room of your elderly loved one's doctor's office.

A confrontational nurse or an overbearing doctor can make appointments unpleasant, scary and even dangerous for a senior and their caregiver.

More dangerous than your average playground persecutor

A schoolyard bully might shove you off a swing, causing you to skin your knee, a doctor bully can undermine communication between nurses and other health care providers, potentially causing you to receive unnecessary treatment or undergo unnecessary surgery.

Research indicates that overbearing doctors whose demeanor discourages communication has a negative effect on the quality of care a person receives.

A study conducted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) revealed that 40% of health care providers didn't voice their concerns regarding a patient's medication because it meant that they had to question an oppressive doctor.

The same study revealed that rude, bullying behavior is pretty prevalent in the health care system. 60% of clinicians said that they experienced episodes of verbal abuse that could be categorized as "strong," while almost 50% reported having to confront off-putting body language.

There are also dangers associated with doctors who harass their patients.

Similar to the nurses in the ISMP study, people who are constantly being intimidated by their doctors are less likely to say things that may ignite a physician's fury. A person may be reluctant to share a troubling symptom or the fact that they are experiencing a new side effect if they are worried it will make a doctor angry.

Awakening a doctor's inner bully

What is it that causes a doctor to turn tyrant? An uncooperative patient could certainly do it.

Richard Kelley, M.D., founder of the "Physician's Way Healthy Weight Loss," clinic, says that if a doctor perceives that their patient is not taking their professional advice seriously, they may turn to other ways of motivating their reluctant charges.

When it comes to dealing directly with their patients, doctors generally take pains to maintain a pleasant bedside manner, but sometimes it can be difficult for doctors to keep their cool in the exam room.

Patients who self-diagnose or want to discuss the pros and cons of various treatment options with their doctors are becoming more numerous, putting a strain on the traditional doctor-patient relationship.

It's certainly important for a patient or their caregiver to remain informed and discuss treatment options with a doctor, but physicians vary in their level of tolerance for lengthy talks. Twenty minutes is generally the maximum amount of time allotted for a typical appointment. This short time frame leaves little time for extra discussion.

Stress and fatigue can also inflame the situation, Kelley describes an instance when, after coming off a nightshift in the ER, he snapped at a patient who had not made progress in losing weight after one month of weight management therapy. He felt bad and later apologized to the woman, but she never returned to his clinic.

Using that incidence to motivate him, Kelley made it a goal of his to prioritize good relationships with his patients, making sure to always treat them as human beings, no matter the situation.

Slip-ups are inevitable Kelley says, particularly when one considers the rigors of a practicing physician's life, but he feels that there is no excuse for consistently poor behavior.

Ronald Riggio, Ph.D., a psychologist and expert on intimidation in the workplace, also puts an emphasis on the constancy of the doctor's behavior as the determining line between an isolated outburst and patient victimization.

According to Riggio, bullying behavior includes persistent insults, criticisms, and other actions that are done to exert power over or upset a targeted person.

Take back your lunch money

If you feel that a doctor is behaving like a bully, either to you or your elderly loved one, you should speak up. Don't just shrug off bad behavior that could be compromising the quality of care your loved one is receiving.

Doctors are experts in their field, but that does not exclude them from engaging in proper behavior when dealing with a patient or their caregiver. Confronting an abusive doctor by either calling them on their conduct or taking the matter to a supervisor is a good way to deal with the situation.

Standing up to a bully is not easy, but Riggio says that it's usually an effective technique.

If the doctor chooses to persist with their intimidation, it is time to find a new care provider for your elderly loved one. You may also choose to report a doctor whose behavior has been particularly egregious to the state licensing board, medical society, or the American Medical Association. No one should be forced to tolerate harassment from anyone, let alone a person who is supposed to be looking out for their health and well-being.

As Kelley says, "A bully is a bully…even if he/she is wearing a long white coat and carrying a stethoscope."

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