When something really heinous occurs in healthcare, nurses usually find out about it via the social media super highway. Unfortunately, our public finds out about it too.

The most recent incident posted by KevinMD involved a patient, his phone, and an anesthesiologist in the GI Suite.

Here’s the gist of the story:

A patient in Vienna was undergoing a colonoscopy and wanted to record his post procedure instructions. But apparently, he recorded the entire procedure including the conversations among the GI physician, Anesthesiologist, and Medical Assistant. What he heard was shocking!

The way they talked about this patient was offensive (referred to him as a “retard”), shameful and could be considered malpractice. While listening to their conversation, I felt embarrassed. Patients put their trust in healthcare providers and now they know, we can abuse that trust.

To listen to the recording, click here.

As nurses, we KNOW what goes on behind patient’s backs. We complain about the “manipulative” patient when giving report, we refer to patients as “drug-ees” and may even make fun of certain patients in the break room.  We’ve all heard the stories about the patients who came to the Emergency Room with a “foreign body in rectum” but is all of this just our warped sense of humor and perhaps how we cope? Or, is it something worse?

What is our responsibility to our public when we think they can’t hear us?

I was talking to my non-nurse husband about this last night; about how heinous this was and about the fact that the patient won a $500,000 lawsuit against the anesthesiologist (who subsequently, got fired).  My husband asked an interesting question – “So they said mean things about this patient. How does that justify winning a lawsuit?”

I told him that it wasn’t just the mocking and nasty remarks about the patient (penis jokes) that were grounds for the lawsuit, it was the conversation between the GI physician and Anesthesiologist about using tricks to avoid talking to the patient post-procedure AND lying about his diagnosis that were grounds for the lawsuit.

This patient put his trust in these physicians. Yet they discarded, stomped on, and made fun of that trust.

What should we have done?

My first thought about this incident was that SOMEBODY in that GI suite should have spoken up and said, "We shouldn't be talking about this patient in this way. This is somebody's father, brother, son, etc. What if people said these things about YOUR father, brother, or son?" But nobody did. I got the sense that the medical assistant may have thought it was wrong but didn’t do anything to stop it.

I see this often - when faced with gossip, disrespectful behavior, and bullying, we stay silent and think that as long as we don't join in, we're okay. But we are wrong. What you ignore, you condone.

We all need to do our part and speak up when faced with behavior like the one on this recording. We have an ethical responsibility to our public, to treat them with respect whether they can hear us or not. And who’s the public? WE ARE! Yeah. I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy next month!!!

Remember, when faced with bad behavior, silence isn't golden - it's an agreement!

Do you agree or disagree that the patient won the $500,000 lawsuit? Let's discuss in the comments.