Doctors in Residency Fail Tests of Common Courtesy

Cheryl Clark, October 24, 2013

Interns observed interacting with hospitalized patients exhibited five basic behaviors associated with etiquette-based medicine during only 4% of all encounters.

Medical interns rarely bother with common acts of courtesy when they meet their patients in the hospital, but are often unaware of it.

That's according to a study of how 29 interns interacted with 732 patients hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center during one month, January, 2012.

"I don't think the interns are actively trying to be rude or mean," says Leonard Feldman, MD, principal author of the paper published in this month's Journal of Hospital Medicine. "I just don't think they're thinking about the fact that they should be courteous and polite, especially when they're worried about their patients' issues of morbidity and mortality, like a possible heart attack or pneumonia."

In the study, interns failed to introduce themselves at the start of 60% of their patient encounters, failed to explain what role they play in their care with 63%, and failed to touch 35% of their patients either with a handshake or other reassuring gesture or with a physical exam. They failed to sit down to talk with 91% of their patients, and failed to ask 25% standard open-ended questions to elicit conversation that reveals more about the patients' problems and makes them feel more comfortable.


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