Identifying and eliminating disruptive physicians has become a paramount concern of many hospitals and healthcare systems. Disruptive physicians hinder the safe and orderly operation of a healthcare facility and are considered a threat to the safety of patients. Disruptive behavior can impact staff morale and can increase the risk of liability to all employers.
A recent New York case demonstrates this. According to a journal for surgeons, a New York doctor is being held responsible for an ongoing worker’s compensation bill as the result of a violent outburst he directed toward a physician assistant (PA). The physician allegedly lost his temper during an open-heart surgery when the physician assistant accidentally suctioned some heart tissue. The physician allegedly threatened that he would “throw the physician assistant through the wall” if it happened again.
The physician assistant has claimed that the threat deeply affected her ability to perform her job, as well as put the patient’s safety at risk. A psychologist diagnosed the PA with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by the incident. Unable to work because of the trauma allegedly caused by the disruptive physician, the PA now reportedly collects $2,415 a week in workers’ compensation.
To read the full article from Outpatient Surgery, click here.
Implications of Disruptive Behavior.
Disruptive behavior from a physician can lead to dire consequences for both the physician and his or her employer. Lawsuits and liabilities, such as those in the New York case discussed above, can detract from a safe, cooperative, and professional healthcare environment.
Disruptive behavior can negatively affect the quality of patient care. Hospitals claim that this happens because of conduct that:
- Disrupts or impedes the operations of the hospital;
- Adversely affects the ability of others on the healthcare team to do their jobs;
- Creates an unprofessional or hostile work environment for hospital employees;
- Interferes with coworkers’ ability to practice competently;
- Prevents effective communications among healthcare providers and staff;
- Disrupts the continuity of care a patient receives; and
- Adversely affect the community’s confidence in the hospital’s ability to provide quality patient care.
Being accused of being a disruptive physician may lead to adverse action against clinical privileges, action to drop the physician from insurance panels, consequential action by the state medical board or licensing authority, loss of specialty certification, termination of employment contracts and other various consequences.
What Conduct May Cause One to be Labeled a Disruptive Physician?
A hospital’s creed, ethical statement, or code of conduct, as well as Joint Commission Standards, and medical staff bylaws can define what constitutes disruptive behavior. Case reports, hospital policies and actual cases in which we have defended physicians demonstrate the types of acts that can be used to label a person as “disruptive.” Disruptive behavior includes, but is not limited to:
- Verbal attacks that are personal, irrelevant to hospital operations, or exceed the bounds of professional conduct;
- Shouting, yelling, or the use of profanity;
- Verbally demeaning, rude or insulting conduct, including exhibiting signs of disdain or disgust;
- Inappropriate physical conduct, such as pushing, shoving, grabbing, hitting, making obscene gestures, or throwing objects;
- Inappropriate comments or illustrations made in patient medical records or other official documents, impugning the quality of care in hospital facilities, or attacking particular medical staff members, personnel, or policies;
- Belittling remarks about the patient care provided by the hospital or any healthcare provider in the presence or vicinity of patients or their families;
- Non-constructive criticism that is addressed to the recipient in such a way as to intimidate, undermine confidence, belittle, or imply stupidity or incompetence;
- Refusal to accept, or disparaging or disgruntled acceptance of, medical staff assignments;
- Inappropriately noisy or loud behavior in patient areas;
- Making sexual or racial jokes;
- Physically touching another professional, nurse or staff member, especially those of the opposite sex;
- Making sexually suggestive remarks;
- Commenting on another person’s body parts;
- Threatening violence to another;
- Throwing surgical equipment, medical supplies, charts, or anything else at or around anyone else; or
- Other disruptive, abusive, or unprofessional behavior.
I previously wrote a two-part blog series detailing the types of conduct considered disruptive, as well as the consequences associated with disruptive behavior and how you as a physician can avoid such pitfalls. To read part one of the blog series, click here. To read part two of the blog series, click here.
Physicians: Proactively Educate Yourself.
It’s wise to review your hospital’s or institution’s policies on disruptive behavior. Arming yourself with the knowledge necessary to avoid such accusations is imperative in protecting your reputation and career.
No one lives in a glass house, but pretend you do. Someone can always observe your actions in the office or hospital. Once you have been labeled a disruptive physician, others may be closely, at times, scrutinizing you for anything you may do wrong. You will make yourself a target for possible false allegations and accusations. The healthcare industry is a demanding and stressful field. It’s understandable that potential outbursts can occur; control yourself and don’t let them.
Have you ever been accused of being a disruptive physician? Have you ever been around one? What are some proactive tactics physicians can take to prevent any outbursts or behavioral conduct that would be deemed as disruptive? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in accusations of disruptive behavior, Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.
To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Burger, Jim. “Doc Threatens Physician’s Assistant During Open Heart Surgery: I’m Going to Put Your Through the Wall.” Outpatient Surgery. (July 14, 2014). From: http://www.outpatientsurgery.net/surgical-facility-administration/legal-and-regulatory/doc-threatens-physician-s-assistant-during-open-heart-surgery-i-m-going-to-put-you-through-the-wall–07-14-14
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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