The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report on sexual harassment recommends that hospitals maintain a clearly written patient bill of rights and responsibilities communicating a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment toward health care professionals.1 Compliance with this recommendation among US academic medical centers is unknown; however, a previous study2 suggests that the top US academic medical centers lack policies for patient-perpetrated sexual harassment and guidance for trainee response. Therefore, we sought to examine the degree to which hospitals affiliated with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) complied with NASEM recommendations for addressing patient-perpetrated sexual harassment through a patient bill of rights and responsibilities and the degree to which language about patients’ rights mirrors the language about patients’ responsibilities.
Between February and October 2019, we conducted a cross-sectional evaluation of patient bills of rights and responsibilities in 50 hospitals, randomly selected from 418 AAMC-affiliated hospitals using a random-number generator function in Stata, version 15.1 (StataCorp LLC). Two of us (E.M.V., A.L.O.) independently reviewed and coded these documents for (1) a specific statement about patients’ responsibilities to refrain from harassment and sexual harassment and their right to receive care free of harassment and (2) the tone of the language communicating this expectation. The University of Michigan institutional review board deemed this study exempt because it did not meet the definition of human subjects research. The study followed the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) reporting guideline.
Condemnation of patient-perpetrated harassment was evaluated in the patient bill of responsibilities. If the document used the words harassment, abuse, or discrimination to specifically condemn behaviors (eg, “harassment will not be tolerated”), it was coded as specific. Patient bills of responsibilities that did not use these words but that used positive behaviors to describe expectations (eg, “be considerate”) were coded as suggestive. If neither approach was taken, this language was coded as absent. The same framework was used when examining patient bills of rights for expectations regarding harassment. This coding is presented in counts (percentages).
All 50 hospitals maintained a publicly available patient bill of rights. Of these bills of rights, 47 (94%) were coded as specific (19 used the word discrimination, and 28 used harassment or abuse) because they clearly stated that the patient has the right to a discrimination-free experience (Table). Only 11 (22%) specifically addressed sexual abuse or harassment (Figure, A and Table).
Regarding patient bills of responsibilities, 39 (78%) of the hospitals maintained a publicly available statement. Of the 39 statements, 1 (3%) was coded as specific (it used the word harassment) (Table), whereas none contained language against patient-perpetrated sexual harassment or abuse (Figure, B). Language coded as suggestive was used in 38 (97%) of the patient responsibility statements, including that patients were to be considerate of hospital staff (Table).
In this representative sample of AAMC-affiliated academic hospitals, nearly all of the hospitals (94%) specifically delineated patients’ rights to receive care free of harassment; however, the same emphasis on zero tolerance of harassment toward health care workers was rarely included in the patients’ responsibilities. Furthermore, the tone of the language used to describe patient responsibilities was suggestive rather than specific as in the patients’ rights and was in contrast to NASEM recommendations.
One limitation of this analysis is that the investigators were not blinded to the hospitals. Another limitation is a lack of generalizability to hospitals outside the AAMC. However, patient-perpetrated harassment is commonly experienced by trainees and is associated with isolation and burnout.3-6 Thus, this group of hospitals warrants specific attention.
Further investigation is needed to understand how patient bills of rights and responsibilities are disseminated, viewed, and interpreted among patients. Combating patient-perpetrated harassment may require hospitals to directly address patients by maintaining clearly written expectations with congruent language in the patient bill of rights and responsibilities.
Accepted for Publication: September 15, 2020.
Published: September 15, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.16267
Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2020 Viglianti EM et al. JAMA Network Open.
Corresponding Author: Elizabeth M. Viglianti, MD, MPH, MSc, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, 2800 Plymouth Rd, North Campus Research Complex, Bldg 14, G100-35, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 (email@example.com).
Author Contributions: Dr Viglianti had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: All authors.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: Viglianti, Meeks.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Meeks.
Obtained funding: Viglianti.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Funding/Support: This work was supported by grant K12 HL138039-02 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Dr Viglianti) and grant KL2 TR002241 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (Dr Oliviero).
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
Johnson PA, Widnall SE, Benya FF, eds. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The National Academies Press; 2018.
LM. The policy gap: a survey of patient-perpetrated sexual harassment policies for residents and fellows in prominent US hospitals. J Gen Intern Med
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