A few weeks ago our Senior Vice President, Michal Ruenburg explained how patient engagement and satisfaction have gone from being buzz words to being the focus of hospitals and the greater healthcare system. Patient engagement and satisfaction is crucial to the healthcare system and it’s our job as public relations professionals to help our clients be transparent and helpful to their constituents – whether that’s a business to an unhappy customer or a surgeon to a scared and medically uneducated patient.

Lindsay Dunn, writer for Becker’s Hospital Review, explains how some surgeons and doctors feel patient satisfaction in healthcare might be going too far. In 2008, The Joint Commission created a new policy classifying disruptive behavior as a sentinel event. The Joint Commission classifies disruptive behaviors as “overt actions such as verbal outbursts and physical threats, as well as passive activities . . . refusing to perform assigned tasks or quietly exhibiting uncooperative attitudes during routine activities.”

Physicians with high patient satisfaction are being rewarded and those with low patient satisfaction or viewed as disruptive are at risk of being terminated. As consumers and patients this is what one would expect – but why do some physicians feel this encouragement for kinder, gentler surgeons may have unintended consequences?

Endocrine surgeon, Dr. Wen Shen says that there is very little correlation between likability and technical skills of the surgeon.  In Dunn’s article, Dr. Shen explains:

In his 2012 book Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, Johns Hopkins surgeon Marty Makary describes two very different attending surgeons whom he encountered during his residency. One 'Dr. Hodad’ (Hands of Death and Destruction) was beloved by patients for his warm bedside manner but was a terrible technical surgeon with poor results. Another surgeon, 'The Raptor' for his cold, abrasive personality, frequently infuriated patients, staff, and co-workers. But, he had amazing technical abilities, and his patients did far better than those of the kindly Dr. Hodad. So how do patients chose?

Do patients really need to choose between a skilled surgeon and a kind one? I would argue they shouldn’t. I have come across many surgeons in my life – some nice and some not-so-nice but all (luckily for me) with impeccable technical skill. I believe surgeons can be civil without the risk of his or her exceptional surgical skills worsening. The only way to ensure this is that attitude adjustment must coincide with a demand for accountability within the healthcare system.