Threats from patients and their effects on medical decision making: a cross-sectional, randomised trial

Lancet. 2001 Apr 21;357(9264):1258-61. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)04407-X.


Background: Negative experiences are not uncommon among doctors in Norway. Our aim was to find out about the various types of negative reactions (eg, complaints, negative exposure to the media, financial claims, and notification to the police) received by physicians from patients or relatives in response to treatment, to identify their cause, and to study their effects on subsequent clinical decisions.

Methods: We posted questionnaires about negative reactions of patients to a random sample (n=1260) of Norwegian doctors. Each doctor was additionally sent five written case simulations and asked to choose one of several proposed clinical strategies. Half (630) the physicians received cases containing threats from the patient or their relatives.

Findings: 988 (78%) physicians returned the questionnaire, 463 (47%) of whom reported negative experiences. Such experiences were reported more frequently by men (357 [51%]) and family physicians (157 [58%]) than by other participants. Negative experiences did not affect choice of strategy for case simulations. For the first case, chest pain, 217 (44%) physicians presented with a threat chose a defensive strategy compared with 145 (30%) of those who were not (difference 14%; 95% CI 8-20). For the second case, a headache case, the corresponding numbers were 278 (57%) and 118 (25%) (32%; 26-38). Physician age, sex, specialty, or experience of negative reactions of patients did not alter the effect of threats received during our study.

Interpretation: Negative experiences do not affect subsequent decision making. However, doctors do comply with wishes from patients or relatives when presented with direct threats.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medicine
  • Middle Aged
  • Negativism
  • Norway
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Specialization
  • Surveys and Questionnaires