Toxic Docs Require Management Finesse

Joe Cantlupe, August 8, 2013

Healthcare organizations are working to both discipline and reform physicians who display disruptive behavior. The process requires leaders to strike a tricky balance between "managing disruptive behavior" and "caring for and protecting the victims," says one expert.

A physician shoving a colleague in the operating room? A doctor yelling at a nurse, resulting in patient harm?

Two years ago, reports of those incidents were included in an American College of Physician Executives' study on disruptive physician behavior [PDF], which revealed that more than 2 out of 3 doctors witness other physicians disrupting patient care or collegial relationships at least once a month.

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"Disruptive physician behavior is the issue that just won't go away," Barry Silbaugh, MD, of the ACPE said in a statement after that report was released. Indeed, it doesn't.  

Just this week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report linking physician verbal abuse of nurses to nurses' low opinion of their work environments. As one of the co-authors noted, "Physicians' verbal abuse of nurses is a long-standing problem and one we need to do much more to address."

Indeed, disruptive behavior can be wide-ranging in its scope, ranging from verbal abuse to physical or sexual harassment, to confrontations or conflicts that cause significant fallout. When physicians are disruptive, disciplinary action may follow.

Joe Cantlupe Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.Twitter

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