Doctors with Disruptive Behaviors Put Patients at Risk

Doctors are supposed to be care-givers and healers. They take a vow to do no harm and we trust them to uphold that vow. However, medical professionals have been under scrutiny recently for inappropriate behavior that can negatively affect the quality of patient care.

This past June, a Virginia patient turned on the recorder on his phone before surgery so he could remember the doctor’s instructions. Upon listening to it, he discovered the doctor joking about diagnosing him with venereal disease and deliberately marked a false diagnosis of hemorrhoids on the patient’s chart. Aside from having a costly lawsuit on her hands, the doctor also exposed what the medical community is calling “disruptive behavior.” Examples of disruptive behavior can include any of the following:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Crude comments
  • Passive aggressive remarks
  • Profane language
  • Criticizing fellow caregivers in front of patients
  • Sexual innuendos or comments
  • Throwing instruments and charts (which happens more often than you think)

While the Virginia case is an example of a doctor exhibiting disruptive behavior to a patient, most disruptive behavior occurs amongst medical professionals.

Disruptive Behavior is More Common Than You Think

USA Today reports during an intense surgery in Seattle, a surgeon berated a male nurse with a mentally handicapped son by stating the nurse was also mentally handicapped. In a more extreme report, a neurosurgeon in California was arrested after he had a fit because he did not want to wait the two hours it took to sterilize the surgical instruments used to operate on his non-emergent patient. USA Today also reported a surgeon in Nashville refused to wash his hands prior to an operation. Rather than drawing attention to the issue, a nurse quietly handed him gloves. The surgeon dropped them in the trash can.

While these are examples of extreme cases of disruptive behavior amongst doctors, experts estimate up to 5 percent of physicians display this type of behavior regularly. An anonymous survey was conducted in 2008 that showed, out of the surveyed hospitals, 77 percent reported witnessing physicians displaying disruptive behavior.

What are Hospitals Doing to Keep Us Safe from Disruptive Doctors?

For obvious reasons, hospitals consider this type of behavior a serious safety risk to patients as it leads to more infections, bad patient outcomes and an increase in error with medications. Though most hospitals implement systems to address these problematic doctors, studies found most staff members are afraid to speak out against an intimidating physician for fear of hostile reactions. In the event reports are filed against a physician, it is not uncommon for the offender to be sent to anger management or other forms of counseling.

Some states, like Wisconsin, are considering bills that would mandate video recordings in the operating room, which would be available to patients upon request and could even hold up in medical court cases. The Joint Commission agrees with active surveillance and also recommends ongoing screenings of medical professionals for personal and health issues that may negatively affect their quality of work.

We put our trust in doctors to provide us with valuable care in our times of need. It is disturbing to find some professionals are abusing their power, mistreating other professionals (who we also rely on) and are ultimately putting patients at risk.

The Law Office of Stanley A. Davis assists victims of medical malpractice and other forms of personal injury.

“And the prayer of faith will heal him who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Luke 9:2