Study: Patients Feel Uncomfortable Asking Doctors about Hand-washing

Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times reports on a study by British researchers investigating what questions patients felt comfortable asking their doctors.

Questions that did not imply anything about the doctor’s preparation or experience or authority were easy to ask–for example, questions about length of stay, or details about how a procedure worked. However, other questions were tougher:

But questions aimed at improving patient safety and reducing medical errors were far more difficult for patients to ask, receiving an average score of just 2.4 points. Questions that received low marks included:

* “Who are you, and what is your job?”
* “I don’t think that is the medication I am on. Can you check please?”
* “Have you washed your hands?”
* “How many times have you done this operation?”

The abstract of the study, published in the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care, can be found here: How willing are patients to question healthcare staff on issues related to the quality and safety of their healthcare? An exploratory study

It is clear that, as hand-washing and double-checking medications are important safety protocols, patients need to become more assertive and doctors and nurses need to become less defensive and more open to these kinds of questions.

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