Unethical Labeling of Patients

One of the significant problems currently seen in health care is the unethical labeling of patients. Terms such as ''gomer'' (''get out of my emergency room''), ''albatross,'' ''turkey,'' and ''slug'' are examples of disrespect. Health-care providers who use such terms are often reacting negatively to certain social and personal traits of their patients, as well as to certain medical conditions. This is particularly evident with illnesses that are usually incurable, are self-inflicted, or that challenge the health-care provider's faith in the ''science'' of medicine. Often, these patients have illnesses that defy medical intervention, thus frustrating the healthcare provider. A patient who is of low socioeconomic class, has an illness engendering fear or disgust, is uncooperative, or is psychologically dysfunctional is at the greatest risk of being labeled in this derogatory manner.

Health-care providers may use these negative terms as ''safety valves'' for the emotionally charged environment in which they work, but this only further distances them from their patients. Each provider must recognize and come to grips with his or her anxieties about dealing with illness and treating patients and must not allow these destructive attitudes to interfere with the care of the sick. Remember the quotation from Francis Weld Peabody that introduces this book: ''the secret in the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.''

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