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Am J Med. 1995 Aug;99(2):190-4.

Elevator talk: observational study of inappropriate comments in a public space.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.



We conducted a study to determine the type and frequency of inappropriate comments made by hospital employees while riding hospital elevators.


Four observers rode in elevators at five hospitals, listening for any comments made by hospital employees that might be deemed inappropriate. All potentially inappropriate comments were reviewed by the research team and were classified as inappropriate if they met at least one of the following criteria: violated patient confidentiality, raised concerns about the speaker's ability or desire to provide high-quality patient care, raised concerns about poor quality of care in the hospital (by persons other than the speaker), or contained derogatory remarks about patients or their families.


We observed 259 one-way elevator trips offering opportunity for conversation. We overheard a total of 39 inappropriate comments, which took place on 36 rides (13.9% of the trips). The most frequent comments (18) were violations of patients confidentiality. Next most frequent (10 comments) were unprofessional remarks in which clinicians talked about themselves in ways that raised questions about their ability or desire to provide high-quality patient care. Other comments included derogatory statements about the general quality of hospital care (8) and derogatory remarks about patients (5). Physicians were involved in 15 of the comments, nurses in 10, and other hospital employees in the remainder.


Inappropriate comments took place with disturbing frequency in the elevator rides we sampled. These comments did not exclusively involve violations of patient confidentiality, but encompassed a range of discussions that health care employees must be careful to avoid.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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