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June 19, 2019

Surgeons who mistreat co-workers put patients in danger, study finds

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How surgeons treat the rest of their operating team and colleagues could have ramifications for the health of their patients, according to a study published this week.

While popular depictions of surgeons often play up a stern and arrogant demeanor, researchers who examined workplace interactions found that these characteristics have a correlation with health complications for patients.

The study published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery looked at 13,700 patients and 202 surgeons whose work was documented by the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program.

Unprofessional behavior by surgeons was identified in post-operation reports in which colleagues could provide feedback and  make complaints. Their teams could make note of unclear or disrespectful communication, poor or unsafe care, lack of integrity and failure to follow through on professional responsibilities.

The study authors found that surgeons with one or more reports of unprofessional behavior over a 36-month period had patients with a greater likelihood of complications. In the 30 days after their operations, these patients had a 12-145 increase in issues including infections, pneumonia, stroke and kidney failure.

About 70% of the surgeons reviewed in the study were men. The authors noted that the subjectivity of co-worker reports and small sample size were limitations.

As a whole, the study reinforces the added importance of maintaining professional behavior in a surgical setting.

"These findings suggest that organizations interested in ensuring optimal patient outcomes should focus on addressing surgeons whose behavior toward other medical professionals may increase patients’ risk for adverse outcomes," the authors said.

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