Original Research

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 28, Issue 11, pp 1405-1409

First online:

Physicians Criticizing Physicians to Patients

  • Susan H. McDanielAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical CenterDepartment of Family Medicine, University of Rochester Medical Center Email author 
  • , Diane S. MorseAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical CenterDepartment of Internal Medicine, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • , Shmuel ReisAffiliated withFaculty of Medicine in the Galilee, Bar-Ilan University
  • , Elizabeth A. EdwardsenAffiliated withDepartment of Emergency Medicine, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • , Mary Gale GurnseyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • , Adam TaupinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • , Jennifer J. GriggsAffiliated withInternal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology and Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan
  • , Cleveland G. ShieldsAffiliated withHuman Development & Family Studies, Purdue University

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Teamwork is critical to providing excellent healthcare, and effective communication is essential for teamwork. Physicians often discuss patient referrals from other physicians, including referrals from outside their primary institution. Sharing conflicting information or negative judgments of other physicians to patients may be unprofessional. Poor teamwork within healthcare systems has been associated with patient mortality and lower staff well-being.


This analysis explored how physicians talk to patients with advanced cancer about care rendered by other physicians.


Standardized patients (SPs) portraying advanced lung cancer attended covertly recorded visits with consenting oncologists and family physicians.


Twenty community-based oncologists and 19 family physicians had encounters with SPs.


Physician comments about care by other physicians were extracted from transcriptions and analyzed qualitatively. These comments were categorized as Supportive or Critical. We also examined whether there were differences between physicians who provide supportive comments and those who provided critical comments.


Fourteen of the 34 encounters (41 %) included in this analysis contained a total of 42 comments about the patient’s previous care. Twelve of 42 comments (29 %) were coded as Supportive, twenty-eight (67 %) as Critical, and two (4 %) as Neutral. Supportive comments attributed positive qualities to another physician or their care. Critical comments included one specialty criticizing another and general lack of trust in physicians.


This study described comments by physicians criticizing other physicians to patients. This behavior may affect patient satisfaction and quality of care. Healthcare system policies and training should discourage this behavior.


physician communication teams criticism cancer