Physician Behavior Now a Business Issue

by Peter Lucash

OK, I’m frustrated and I took it out on some USAirways ticket guy. After two days being held prisoner by this airline, yeah, I’m frustrated. So, when we read reports that the Independent Joint Commission wants hospitals to deal with “swearing, yelling, and throwing objects” by physicians, I can understand where this can come from. Not to excuse it, but it’s not always simply a personality problem.

I’ve written before of some of the best – and most satisfying – experience I ever had in my career. In the first few years I was at the Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, and part of my job was to be the “administrator on duty”, whose sole job was to fix problems.

There is no excuse for anyone in the workplace to be screaming and bullying people, and especially not for throwing things. But when this behavior leads other to refrain from calling a physician about a patient, there is a problem. The Joint Commission recognizes that everyone in health care is under a lot of stress.

“These pressures can be further exacerbated by changes to or differences in the authority, autonomy, empowerment, and roles or values of professionals on the health care team, as well as by the continual flux of daily changes in shifts, rotations, and interdepartmental support staff. This dynamic creates challenges for inter-professional communication and for the development of trust among team members”.

With the Joint Commission on the move, and attention being raised to workplace bully behavior in the broader business community, it’s going to be incumbent upon physicians and your staffs to monitor your own behavior. The wife of a physician that I know says that her husband works hard and long hours, but she gets him away at least once a month for some down time. Living a stressed life costs you in the end in terms of real dollars. It may not seem that way, but it really will, in terms of being less efficient than you would be if you are fresh and rested. For physicians who have been in practice for some time – say 10 years – maybe taking a longer break of a month or more would be a worthwhile investment in the practice. Yes, revenue will be lost, and yes, you have bills to pay. But maybe if you looked at a short break as an investment rather than an expense or revenue loss it will make more sense. Think about it.

The takeaway: hospitals are going to be acting on incidents of poor behavior. It’s incumbent upon physicians to look out for each other, when someone needs a break, or needs to commiserate – whatever.

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