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Squelch Disruptive Docs or Face Consequences

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, September 13, 2012

One of your top cardiologists, a crackerjack moneymaker for your hospital, just had a great meeting with you about clinical goals. Everyone is smiling.

When the meeting ends and everyone disperses, your doc colleague is a different guy. Out of your view, he is loud and intimidating. He questions others' judgments and cuts people off in mid-sentence. He's abusive to the nursing staff and aides.  Essentially, his behavior can undermine everyone's work, and be a detriment to patients. His actions are the very model of disruptive physician behavior, a phrase gaining weight in the healthcare lexicon.

This behavioral scenario isn't a figment of my imagination, or an anomaly. It is a too-common occurrence in hospitals and physician groups, and can even crop up in the operating room, says Liz Ferron, manager of clinical services and senior consultant for Physician Wellness Services in Minneapolis, MN, a company that helps physicians and health organizations through issues including managing behavioral problems.


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No tolerance for mistakes
"The physician is feeling frustrated by some processes, or things aren't moving quickly enough," Ferron says, by way of explaining some of the "reasons" behind the behavior. Of course, there are a host of them, anywhere from stresses at home to the most likely: "someone who's a perfectionist, who doesn't allow mistakes or tolerate them," as Ferron puts it.

But the cranky outbursts are also open for public view. "Patients themselves see and know what's going on, and they may say, ‘we really don't like the way he treats other staff," Ferron says. "If these physicians are never given feedback, they are truly clueless about how they are impacting people around them."

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