There's a good reason to stay polite with your pediatrician.

Girl and Doctor
Young girl and doctor.
| Credit: DMarshall via Getty Images

Mama was right: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. And according to new research, this is especially true when you're dealing with the medical professionals who care for your children when they're sick. In fact, in some cases, being rude to your kid's doctor could be a matter of life or death.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics referenced findings from Johns Hopkins Universitythat attributed more than 250,000 deaths per year in the United States to medical errors. That's the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Furthermore—and this is where things get scary—researchers found that rudeness could account for a whopping 40% of medical errors. 40%! That's almost half!

"You're risking your child's life, and other children's lives, when you are rude," Amir Erez, the study's lead researcher and a management professor at the University of Florida, told OZY. The reason, he says, is actually quite simple: Exposure to rudeness impairs the working memory of doctors and medical professionals, which can cause them to overlook things, misdiagnose conditions, or even fail to appropriately resuscitate patients. Rudeness is "really devastating to their performance," Erez says. Not only that, but the effects can spread across an entire team.

Erez and his fellow researchers followed 39 neonatal ICU teams as they simulated treating infant medical mannequins in various emergency situations. An actor playing the role of an angry mother hurled rude statements at some of the teams while they attempted to treat their patient. Erez and his colleague, doctoral student Trevor Foulk, found that the teams who were subjected to the emotional outbursts of the mother figure performed poorly compared with the groups who were not confronted with the distressed parent. In fact, they made life-altering mistakes in nearly all 11 of the study's measures—from diagnostic accuracy to prescribing a treatment plan.

Erez does acknowledge that sometimes rudeness is unavoidable. "There are some situations in which parents need to scream," he says. But in most cases, he says, parents should try and let the doctor concentrate and do their jobs as peacefully as possible. After all, it could mean life or death for your child.