Why hospitals turn a blind eye to misbehaving docs

Hospitals often turn a blind eye to bad behavior by physicians, especially if the doctors generate a lot of revenue, according to Syracuse.com.

Last week's lawsuit by a Virginia patient who claims doctors mocked and defamed him while he was unconscious during a colonoscopy is just the latest example of disruptive doctor behavior.

A Syracuse, N.Y. surgeon allegedly slapped sedated patients' buttocks and called them derogatory names and though staff complained, St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center didn't do anything about it until a formal complaint was filed in December, according to the publication.

Although experts say the vast majority of physicians aren't troublemakers, bad behavior clearly isn't an isolated problem. There have been several cases of physicians throwing objects in the operating room, yelling and hitting patients, and sexual abuse, the Association of Health Care Journalists reports. However, in most of these instances hospitals didn't investigate the claims, according to Syracuse.com.

Hospitals often don't do anything about the problem because the accused physician brings in a lot of money, Michael A. Carome, M.D., director of health research at the nonprofit consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen, in Washington, D.C told Syracuse.com. And when hospitals do report cases to state medical boards, it's rare for physicians to receive more than a slap on the wrist for the misconduct, he said.

Indeed, state boards only disciplined 4,479 of the 878,194 active, licensed physicians in the U.S. in 2012--less than 1 percent, Medscape reports.

Disruptive workplace behavior isn't unique to the healthcare industry, but the stakes are higher because of the negative impact it can have on the patient, William Martin, a DePaul University professor and expert on disruptive workplace behavior, told Syracuse.com. In many instances, the bad behavior distracts the healthcare team, which can lead to medical mistakes.

"When we allow bad physicians to remain in practice, that can ultimately expose hundreds if not thousands of patients to substandard and unprofessional care," Carome said.

Last year FierceHealthcare reported that some hospitals are finally cracking down on the problem, particularly the abuse behavior some doctors express toward nurses, trainees, colleagues and other medical staff. Steps hospitals can take include setting behavioral expectations for the professional staff, establishing a behavior event review committee, and implementing a physician health committee.

To learn more:
- read the Syracuse.com article
- check out the AHCJ report
- here's the Medscape report