Skip to Content

Surgeons’ Interactions with Colleagues Can Impact Patient Health


Surgeons aren’t on the “front lines” of familiarizing themselves with patients and families in the same way as primary care physicians, and aren’t known for their bedside manner with either patients or fellow providers.

While it’s a stereotype, the abrasive yet gifted surgeon does exist, and research has shown those highly skilled and specialized surgeons tend to receive more leeway from colleagues when it comes to poor manners than other medical professionals.

A new study, however, suggests rude or inconsiderate behavior by surgeons could have an adverse impact on patient health, and may increase the risks for medical malpractice and preventable complications after procedures.

New Study Explores Surgeons’ Behavior with Medical Teams

A new study published in JAMA Surgery focused on how the behavior of surgeons and interactions with their teams can impact patient health and safety. Researchers behind the study reviewed data from over 200 surgeons and nearly 14,000 patients. Here are some of their findings:

  • Patients of surgeons who behaved unprofessionally toward colleagues were more likely to experience complications after their procedures.
  • Surgeons who behaved in an “unprofessional” manner were found to undermine their teams’ performance, which can threaten patient safety.

In addition to evaluating patient outcomes, researchers also looked at post-operation reports to determine whether surgeons’ colleagues characterized their behavior as any form of “unprofessional.” This includes:

  • Disrespectful or unclear when communicating;
  • Poor or unsafe care;
  • Lack of integrity;
  • Failures to follow up on professional duties.

Researchers noted that when surgeons displayed one or more types of unprofessional behavior in the previous 3 years, their patients were 12-14% more likely to experience complications within the first month after surgery. This includes infections, stroke, pneumonia, and kidney failure. Roughly a third of all patients in the study were treated by surgeons who received one or more reports of unprofessionalism.

Surgical Errors, Negligence & Medical Malpractice

The study provides a new perspective on surgical care, and shows skill and technical prowess are not the only determinants of good outcomes. According to experts, the research can help improve understanding of malpractice risks and how to reduce them. Some medical schools have already begun offering courses on empathy and kindness, or grading students in part on assessments of empathy, professionalism, and personality.

As our medical malpractice team knows, professional behavior is an important factor in the quality of care patients receive, and it can be an important element to investigate and highlight when injured patients bring claims against surgeons and providers who fail to meet their duty of care.

The Becker Law Firm is a Cleveland-based civil trial firm with a proven record of success in complex medical malpractice claims including those involving surgical errors. If you have a potential case to discuss, contact us.

Share To: