Disruptive docs

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: February 2nd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Screaming matches in front of bewildered patients. Angry surgeons hurling instruments across the operating room. Treachery and backstabbing as physicians and nurses try to undermine one another.

It may sound like a script from your favorite television medical drama, but according to published reports, these kinds of scenarios are occurring all the time in hospitals and health-care systems across the country. In fact, the problem has become so widespread that the Joint Commission issued a statement requiring health-care facilities adopt zero tolerance policies for disruptive physician behavior by January first of 2009.

Why is disruptive behavior so prevalent in the health-care industry? Experts have many theories. First, the jobs are high-stress and employees are often asked to perform when overtired and overworked. Second, many physicians are taught to act quickly and decisively, which may foster impatience and a lack of tolerance for dissenting opinions. Finally, hospital administrators have traditionally valued results above all else. So if a surgeon brings in millions of dollars every year for the institution, superiors may overlook reports of bad behavior.

A growing number of health-care organizations are starting to crack down on the problem, however. In addition to encouraging team-building and creating more educational opportunities, these institutions are also setting up codes of conduct. If these policies are disobeyed, the employee will face serious consequences.

Health-care experts are cautiously optimistic this newfound emphasis on better behavior will end some of the worst examples. But for the moment, the situation lends new meaning to the phrase: Physician, heal thyself.