Harmful to your Health: Researchers raise money to study institutional betrayal in healthcare

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Sept. 3, 2014 - PRLog -- Psychology researchers from the University of Oregon are raising money through crowdfunding platform Experiment to understand a potential barrier to effective healthcare: actions on the part of healthcare institutions like hospitals or insurance companies that may harm vulnerable patients.

Few would fail to recognize the potential harm of egregious medical mistakes like a botched surgery or dangerous drug overdose - a multimillion dollar industry has grown from pursuing lawsuits or protecting oneself from the same. What graduate student Carly Smith and professor Jennifer Freyd at University of Oregon propose is a much subtler form of harm may be causing psychological and physical health to suffer following interactions with healthcare institutions.

For the past several years, Smith and Freyd have been studying institutional betrayal, largely related to campus sexual assault. They have found that college students who have experienced sexual assault regularly indicated that universities contributed to their experience in some way: failing to take preventative measures such as education, creating environments where sexual assault seems common or like no big deal, or failing to respond adequate to reported assaults. What's more, these types of experiences are associated with increased psychological distress following sexual assault as well worse physical health.

This last finding struck Smith as particularly notable, "A lot of research indicates that traumatic experiences have long-lasting effects on physical health due to the wear and tear of chronic stress. Given that we had found similar effects for institutional betrayal, I started wondering -- what if institutional betrayal occurred in a place where people were specifically going to get well? What if difficult experiences in healthcare systems were more than just stumbling blocks on the path to recovery? What if these experiences actually made people sicker?"

Smith and Freyd already had the means to ask these questions. Their Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire, published in 2013, was readily modifiable to fit experiences within healthcare institutions. Through Experiment's platform, Smith and Freyd hope to raise enough money to conduct a large-scale survey of people's experiences in healthcare, including institutional betrayal. They plan to study how those experiences predict psychological and physical health, trust in physicians and healthcare systems, and health-related behaviors like following doctors' advice or taking medications as instructed. When backers give money to the project, they receive regular updates about the progress of the study, access to Smith's "lab notes" where she discusses aspects of her research, and recognition in the published results

If fully funded, Smith and Freyd hope that this project is just the beginning of bringing important knowledge and change to healthcare systems. "It should be intuitive," Smith adds. "Everyone's goals in this are the same: to provide and receive the best possible care. We think we see a way healthcare institutions get in their own way and we think we can help."

Fund this study: https://experiment.com/projects/first-do-no-harm-institut...

Experiment recently surpassed $1 Million in total research funding raised. The site has been featured in The Economist, Forbes, Nature, and The New York Times.
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