Gossip, rudeness and playing “favorites” hurts the quality of healthcare in facilities, a new report alleges.

A survey of more than 1,200 physicians, nurses and other healthcare staff by VitalSmarts identified common communication issues among providers. In addition to gossip, the respondents said a failure to hold each other accountable and “unresponsive” physicians hurt their efforts to provide quality care.

The findings, published Tuesday, also found that two-thirds said poor initiative among workers — taking shortcuts and excessive breaks, for example — was common, with almost three-fourths reporting that it affected patient safety and care. More trouble was that 75% of workers said the issue of pulling one’s weight was “undiscussable.”

Another taboo topic: Facility managers who played “favorites” including assigning better hours and assignments to specific employees.

Healthcare organizations’ handling of such issues also served as a good indicator of their patient safety, quality of patient care, quality of patient and family experiences, and staff and physician engagement, the VitalSmarts team said.

“The stress and complexities introduced by long and difficult hours, power differentials among colleagues and mounting regulation ensures healthcare professionals will face interpersonal strain and frustration at every turn,” said VitalSmarts cofounder Joseph Grenny. “What this research confirms is that if you can’t talk about high stakes staff issues, you can’t deliver great healthcare.”  

Managers who show strong interpersonal skills can help alleviate the symptoms of workplace drama, noted David Maxfield, vice president of research for VitalSmarts, with workers reporting that “skillful bosses” helped improve the patient safety and staff engagement in their departments.