My Work Group Gossips About Patients

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about unprofessional communication of a work group:

I work at a clinic/hospital as a nurse or dr’s assistant and I love my job, but, I am unhappy with the level of unprofessionalism of my coworkers. They tend to gossip about the patients and share information that should be kept private. I’ve tried to change the subject, but no one listens to me. This also makes it difficult for me and other nurses to focus on getting work done, which can lead to other issues and mistakes. How do I get my gossipy coworkers to follow protocol and focus on our work rather than talking about patients private information? Signed–Unhappy With Gossip

Dear Unhappy With Gossip:

Thank you for sharing your uneasiness about gossip of coworkers in a job you love. You realize rules about keeping medical matters private are important and should not be broken. Efforts you have made to change the subject you say result in no one listening to you. What can you do to raise awareness and observance of patients’ privacy? Your question prompted me to look back at the many questions we have had about gossip and to include a few of them in this answer.

Scanning them reminds me of the harm that can be done by a loose tongue: broken friendships, causing coworkers to lose a job, wasting time, and invasion of privacy. The advice we have given boils down to approaching the problem alone and seeking help of a supervisor.

The hard fact is that people will gossip at work. When? Whenever they have an opportunity. Why? For many reasons. Because they are curious about personal matters and gossip can give them information about how to prevent and cope with similar matters. Because they can feel better than those in trouble. Because they want bad stuff so that they have a measure of control over others. There probably are other causes for gossip such as boredom and escaping workplace routine. The essential matter is that gossip (particularly about clients and personnel) will happen when management fails to make clear it will not be tolerated.

Here are several Q&S we have posted that might be of interest to you:
Written Up For Gossip-Now Coworker Apologizes
Coworker Gossiping to Get Me Fired
Want to Meet With Employees About Gossip
Gossip and How it Affects Perception of Coworkers
Gossiping Employees
Get Them Off the Gossip Train

So in your particular situation I submit three options for action:

 

  • Do What You Can Do Alone. Think through and determine what to say when you hear patient matters being discussed or are brought to you. You can say, “It’s good to be considerate and empathetic with our patients, but we are not to talk about their personal lives even if they disclose personal information. I know what they say might be interesting, but I don’t want to participate in this gossip. Do you understand?” You would turn away politely when personal topics are brought up, with “Is this something we should know about this patient’s condition?” Having wording ready will help along with your having topics that pertain to making you work area clean and pleasant.
  • Consult With Office Manager about these concerns you have—how to deal with gossip about patients’ personal and medical condition, concerns brought about assignments, and in particular your role in addressing them. Take down her specific “how-tos.” In the course of such a session with your manager, you and/or she might discuss how to get the whole staff committed to making their workplace a great place in which to work. Such talk might evolve into option 3.
  • Enlist the Office Manager in Office-Wide Problem-Solving. Propose to the Office Manager that she engage office-wide problem-solving. That they collaboratively describe what they see as going well and what needs improvement. This would not be a one-time fix but an ongoing weekly session in which the whole staff describes their performance in satisfying patients and their families. Such sessions could spell out how instructions and assignments can be best given, posted and who is to be consulted and gives approval. The whole-office meetings also can spell out Dos and Don’ts of use of equipment, use of emails and Internet. They can discuss cutting wasted supplies, time, money and effort. Another important topic is talk about talk—what gossip hurts and invades privacy. And on the other hand, what talk expresses gratitude, shows concern for others, cheers and makes coming to work pleasant. Such topics sometimes become office wide such as arrangement of work spaces, décor, choice of artwork and green plants.

 

I know these options extend beyond your question about coworker gossip with regard to patient privacy. I hope thinking about the wider effects of patient gossip prompts commitment to identify with those you take care of and appreciation for your coworkers, and the hospital within which you work. I will appreciate learning how your “cut the gossip project” evolves. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden