Nursing Lifestyle

How Should Hospitals Handle Nurses Being Cyberbullied by Patients

How Should Hospitals Handle Nurses Being Cyberbullied by Patients

It is fair to say that a large amount of nurses working today use their care and compassion outside of the hospital, as well as within the hospital walls whilst treating patients and making conversation with the patient’s loved ones.  However,  there has been reports of conflict between nurses, their patients, as well as their loved ones. Why? An article on Medical Express explored this idea, and highlighted a large amount of cases that show nurses being bullied via the Internet by their patients and the patients' loved ones.

This finding was the result of a study conducted by Massey University PhD candidate Natalia D’Souza in Auckland, New Zealand.  The research effort had found that bullying among fellow nurses within the same staff is prevalent, but bullying coming from patients and their respective families have also been reported.  The study discusses this phenomenon, pointing out the inherent difficulties and stress that this can bring for the nurses on the receiving end of the bullying.  Often times the negative, verbal abuse can create a whirlwind of emotions within the hospital walls, ultimately creating a confusing and frustrating workplace for the nurses. 

One example, as mentioned by Ms. D’Souza, was pointed out as she states that, “I was told about one case where a nurse was being bullied by a patient's mother, and she used her son to gain access. She would call to ask for help for her son, but then start abusing the nurse, so the nurse was hesitant to block the calls in case it was a genuine emergency."  This scenario can present serious repercussions for the nurse, as the stress level in the workplace can already be high enough while nurses must care for multiple patients at a time. 

A registered nurse must always perform at their best, both mentally and physically, due to the tough requirements seen in their career.  Ms. D’Souza highlights this very idea when she points out that, “These bullying behaviours can build on each other to create even greater harm in a more complex and dynamic way… So, the traditional bullying impacts of anxiety and depression apply, but there is an almost unique anxiety associated with the public nature of cyberbullying, along with the constant accessibility outside of work hours."

An interesting point that was brought up as a result of the study was that oftentimes this bullying within the workplace can go unseen.  This in itself has its own negative effects, as nurses may then continue to experience the bullying and continue being mentally taxed by the verbal abuse.  Over time a nurse may very well never mention it, with the potential for a decrease in work performance and self-reported workplace satisfaction. 

Along these lines Ms. D’Souza mentions that, “One of the things that clearly emerged from my research is that cyberbullying is still an unknown problem and organisations are not sure how to deal with it. A lot of organisations have social media policies that outline what staff can and can't do, but they don't have policies to protect staff from external abuse.”  Because of this, there may be very serious implications for needed change in the way hospitals create and enforce their internal policies. 

In making necessary modifications to their policies for the healthcare staff, hospitals could be well on the way to seeing an improved workplace satisfaction.  As a result, the care the nurses and other staff could potentially improve, as they could be more energetic and positive throughout their day to day tasks.

A drastic change in policies for healthcare staffs may be the best course of action in terms of ending bullying altogether, no matter where the source of verbal abuse is coming from.  Ms. D’Souza points this out as the best option, as she states that, “It shows staff that cyberbullying is something the organisation takes seriously and, if it happens to them, they can see that it is recognised as a form of workplace bullying and there are processes for reporting it." 

Changing policies however, will not necessarily fix the problem immediately, as the setback must first be recognized within the hospital, amongst the staff, as well as the patients and their families.  On this note, the PhD candidate based out of Auckland commented that, “Cyber bullying needs to be acknowledged as a problem first, then supporting mechanisms need to be implemented to encourage people to report. In the absence of education and prevention, it is a problem that will continue to grow because of the accessibility that electronic devices provide. I also expect to see new types of cyberbullying as technology develops."

Relevant studies

Although bullying amongst fellow nurses, as well as with patients and their respective families may come as a surprise, it is not the first time the problem has been identified.  A variety of other research efforts have sought to highlight this very phenomenon, in hopes that the dynamics can change with healthcare staff.  In doing so, obvious positives can result.  One study, using subjects from the National Health Service (NHS) of England, looked at the various contributing factors of workplace bullying.  This was done by paying close attention to different key traits with each test subject. 

The particular areas of focus for each employee being observed included their respective “stress scale”, the “hospital anxiety and depression scale”, the “overall job satisfaction scale”, the “support at work scale”, as well as the “propensity to leave scale.”  The conclusion of the study included the fact that there is a rather obvious prevalence of workplace bullying, and that internal systems must be put into place in order to solve the conflict.

The future for nurse in the workplace

As mentioned before, much of the potential for change within the workplace will be dependent on it first becoming known.  This means that nurses being affected by bullying, whether it is from their colleagues or their patients and the loved ones of the patients, must speak out and have their voices heard.  Without doing this, the problem will most likely persist. 

In order to help nurses speak out, a system that better enables comments and, more importantly, concerns, within the workplace will help to highlight these problems. In the meantime, the formation of teams with the same goal can be formed in order to show that the problem truly does exist and must be stopped before any more negative effects occur.  A community of affected nurses, rather than a single nurse, may be the best option in terms of ensuring that the problem is identified and ultimately solved.