When patients and relatives abuse doctors and hit them or indulge in looting and arson, it makes the news. Video clips go viral, doctors go on strike, arrests are made and the newspapers tend to give adequate coverage to these incidents.

What doesn’t get reported is the increasing incidence of verbal abuse that the medical staff has to face from patients and relatives…paralleling the increasing intolerance and rage pervading our society, with people losing their temper in all kinds of situations, on all sorts of workers, including policemen, airline staff, toll-naka workers, truck and cab drivers, bank employees, call centre operators…anyone providing a service.

While a lot of this physical abuse happens in emergency and trauma wards given the heightened emotions and the likely extreme injury / stroke / heart attack and the possibility of death (which still does not justify in anyway any kind of violence or abuse), verbal abuse usually happens in non-emergency situations. Health-care establishments and their workers including doctors, present such easy, soft targets that it becomes easy to lose one’s temper without the immediate fear of repercussions.

The reasons are invariably one of these

  1. Increased waiting time
  2. Delayed reports
  3. Instructions, addresses not conveyed properly or misunderstood
  4. Reports misplaced
  5. Reports exchanged
  6. Patient not attended to in time or properly
  7. Patient or relative not spoken to properly
  8. Tea or coffee not up to the mark
  9. Too many forms to be filled
  10. No discount being given
  11. No parking facility available

and the list goes on.

The problem may be as trivial as extra waiting time or a little more serious as with exchanged reports or not being attended to in time.




If a patient is not happy with the services, or has a problem with the staff or the way things are being managed, he/she can escalate to a senior, to the doctor present, to a manager or the CEO of the hospital or the head administrator of the facility or whoever…

File a complaint, hell, file a lawsuit, if necessary…but NO ONE CAN SHOUT AT THE STAFF. There is no justification.

I have been impressed by the posters at most London tube stations that promise severe penalties against those who abuse transport workers.

Poster at a London tube station regarding staff abuse

Poster at a London tube station regarding staff abuse

I have been mulling putting similar posters in our premises, warning people that they can’t abuse the staff whatever the provocation, but have so far refrained from doing so because what may seem apt for a tube station may not necessarily be ideal for a medical facility.

Finally, with Dr. Hemant Morparia’s help we have come up with a series of cartoons that we hope can humorously get this message across.

Anti-Abuse Posters

It is important for all patients and their relatives to understand that abuse is only counter-productive. It makes the staff defensive, changes the methodology of management usually to the detriment of the patient and leads to situations where the staff is unwilling to be proactive, especially if the patient comes back the next time, which in turn causes more aggravation. In the end the only loser in all this is the patient and his/her health.

It also changes the environment at that time. It affects, usually adversely, the other patients and relatives who are waiting their turn, and has a cascading effect on the shaken workers, who are likely to make more mistakes, which in turn may result in poorer care for the remaining patients in that shift or the whole day/night or throughout the period of stay.

Visits to medical facilities and hospitals are never easy. Patients and relatives are often nervous, scared, worried and the slightest provocation or perceived lapse in attention can make one angry. And yes, the staff may be out of line, the doctors may not behave properly, the facility or hospital may be rapacious or the reports may be erroneous.

Then, walk away. There are always better or equal choices. Or sue, like the person who thinks that one of the city’s hospitals is collecting unnecessary surcharges. Complain. Email. Write. Tweet. Broadcast. WhatsApp.

But abuse, verbal or physical, is not acceptable. We have empowered our staff to politely ask people to leave if they start shouting and it has worked well so far, though of course, these patients have never come back for tests.  No one should abuse and no one should accept abuse as well.