Disruptive--and dangerous--behavior caught on tape: Time to finally stop misbehaving docs

In all the furor leading up to the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday to uphold federal subsidies, you may have missed a story in FierceHealthcare this week about a lawsuit involving an anesthesiologist's shocking behavior in the operating room.

Shocking because the tirade, which was accidentally caught on tape, featured an outrageous and, frankly disgusting, exchange between Tiffany Ingham, M.D., and her surgical team, in which she called the unconscious patient a "retard" and a "wimp" and also speculated that he was gay due to his alma mater, the University of Mary Washington, a former women's college. 

The patient, an unnamed Virginia man, didn't intend to record the conversation. He had hoped to capture the doctor's post-discharge instruction via a cellphone recording, but accidentally taped the entire examination because his clothing was put under the operating table. Imagine his surprise when he fully awoke from his stupor to hear the physician and surgical team he entrusted would care for him, instead insult him, express a desire to punch him in the face, and deliberately misdiagnose him.

The incident is appalling on so many levels, but the idea that a provider would falsify medical reports and the patient safety risks that are inherent in this kind of disruptive and distracted behavior are especially so. 

The jury was also offended by the unprofessional behavior. Their verdict: Ingham (who no longer works at the Aisthesis anesthesia practice in Bethesda, Maryland and has since moved to Florida, according to the Washington Post) must pay her former patient $500,000 for defamation, medical malpractice and punitive damages.

One of the jurors told the Post that Ingham didn't have much of a defense because the entire conversation was on tape. Although there was some disagreement among the panel as to how much the patient should be awarded, the jury finally decided "that we have to give him something, just to make sure that this doesn't happen again."

I'd like to think that the public slap on the wrist and the payout would be enough to stop disruptive behavior among doctors. But the fact is, the industry has long put up with this trash talk and bullying behavior. A December 2014 study in JAMA found that of 523 physician leaders and 321 staff physicians, 71 percent witnessed disruptive behavior in the previous month and 26 percent were disruptive at one time in their career.

Why does the industry put up with it? Last year FierceHealthcare reported that many hospitals don't do anything about the problem because troublesome physicians often generate a lot of revenue.

But Michael A. Carome, M.D., director of health research at the nonprofit consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen, in the District of Columbia, told Syracuse.com at the time of that report that the bad behavior is a patient safety risk. "When we allow bad physicians to remain in practice, that can ultimately expose hundreds if not thousands of patients to substandard and unprofessional care," he said.

It's time hospitals finally adopt a zero-tolerance policy for bad behavior--and let's hope the $500,000 judgement (small money really) amidst a consumer-driven movement in healthcare will finally be the wake-up call the industry needs. --Ilene (@FierceHealth)

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